Safety of patients, staff and doctors remain of paramount importance

Further update on the situation at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital

Wednesday, April 8 2020

Netcare today assured South Africans that safeguarding each and every person in its care, staff members, doctors and others who work at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, as well as in all other Netcare hospitals, against COVID-19 and other infections has, and will always be, of paramount importance.

“We are deeply saddened that, despite our very best efforts and precautions, there have been a total of four COVID-19 associated deaths at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban, since the outbreak started in South Africa,” says Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of the Netcare Group.

“As a healthcare group that holds the sanctity of life above all else, every death is one too many. At this tragic time, we wish to express our heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of the people who passed away. They are in our thoughts and prayers.

“In addition, we want to assure the people of South Africa that we are sparing no effort or cost to keep every person in our care as well as our staff and doctors as safe as possible,” adds Dr Friedland.

Update on Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital
“Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital has a total of 15 pre-existing community acquired COVID-19 patients in its dedicated COVID-19 isolation units at present. Of these patients, we can confirm that one person has already recovered and tested negative and is expected to be discharged shortly.

“Of the staff and doctors tested, we confirm that 47 people who are connected with our hospital have tested positive for COVID-19. Of the 47 positive cases, 33 are in self-isolation and a further 14 are being accommodated by Netcare to ensure that they are able to safely self-quarantine. Of those who tested positive, one person has since tested negative following his period of self-quarantine and has since returned to work.

The challenges of COVID-19
Two of the greatest challenges associated with COVID-19 is that those infected do not always have symptoms, and that it is highly infectious. Even in the presence of extensive and effective infection prevention measures, such as those in place within Netcare hospitals, any building where people are brought together poses a potential risk for infection.

“Unfortunately, with COVID-19 people can transmit the virus before they show symptoms that can be screened for, and where one person is contagious the virus can very quickly spread to others. For this reason, among other precautions Netcare took the extraordinary measure some weeks ago of suspending visiting and public entry to its hospitals except for in specific exceptional circumstances and closed its pharmacies and coffee shops.

“The ideal would be if all healthcare facilities could test, and not just screen, every person coming into our hospitals, and to do that on a repeat basis as some may at first test negative. The reality in South Africa, however, makes this impossible, so the risk remains of COVID-19 entering our hospitals, and any other hospitals, in this way despite our best efforts to prevent this from happening,” notes Dr Richard Friedland.

Implementation of additional measures at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital
“We wish to provide comfort and assurance to staff, patients, doctors and the community that we are working tirelessly to ensure additional precautionary and preventative measures are in place to contain the spread of COVID-19,” he adds.

These measures include:

  • The hospital’s emergency department was closed on the evening 2 April 2020 and all planned surgery and admissions cancelled until further notice.
  • The process to completely decontaminate and disinfect the entire hospital through deep cleaning began on 2 April 2020 and remains ongoing. As an additional precaution terminal cleaning using a high dosage of chlorine, followed by disinfection with the aid of ultra-violet disinfection robots is being done. This will be completed by tomorrow.
  • There are a total of 1 982 people working on the campus of Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, inclusive of healthcare workers, nurses, contractors and doctors. More than half of these individuals have already been swabbed. Thus far, a total of 504 people have tested negative and we are awaiting the results of a further 318 people. These results are reported on a daily basis to the head of the KZN Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 task team.
  • As a further precaution, Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital has been contacting all patients who were treated at the emergency department or admitted into the hospital as from 1 March 2020. This is to determine if any of these patients require any further investigation or testing.
  • A dedicated 24-hour communication channel to manage queries as well as to answer other concerns which our patients may have, has been set up.
  • Individuals who have visited Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital or have been in hospital since 1 March 2020 are welcome to contact us on our 24-hour helpline on 0800 111 266 if they have not as yet heard from the hospital.
  • COVID-19 symptomatic screening of all persons working in the hospital is continuing on a daily basis, as some individuals could be asymptomatic but start showing symptoms in following days. Where indicated by the screening, swabbing and testing is then carried out. The aim of this is to identify, as early as possible, any persons who may be infected, in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • All screening and testing is being done in close consultation and collaboration with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health.
  • The Netcare clinical team is working closely with Professor Salim Karim, a special adviser to the Minister of Health, and a team of epidemiology and infectious diseases specialists from the University of KZN, to fully investigate the underlying cause and nature of this outbreak.

Personal protection equipment: Strict policies, training aligned to best practice   
Dr Friedland noted that contrary to certain misleading claims, staff members and doctors at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital and all other Netcare facilities have all been provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) on an ongoing basis.

“No Netcare facility has ever expected of a staff member to work without appropriate PPE.  Our PPE policy includes a directive on the wearing of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic which is, in fact, more conservative in that it provides greater protection than the current recommendations and guidelines of two highly respected health organisations, namely the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

“In addition, we have re-trained over 16 750 healthcare workers, other staff members and doctors on the appropriate and correct use of personal protective equipment, and compliance in this regard is being closely monitored.

“Since the spread of infections began as a result of two patients, who were admitted for other medical reasons and initially had no travel history or symptoms of COVID-19 but subsequently tested positive, we have been in close consultation with the KZN DoH and the NICD and continue to strictly follow their guidance and instructions,” said Dr Friedland.

Further precautions
“We fully understand and empathise with the concerns regarding the serious situation at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital and we wish to assure patients, staff, doctors and the community that all efforts and resources are being directed at containing the outbreak and keeping everyone safe.

“All the findings from the in-depth investigation will be fully assessed and used to strengthen and further improve existing processes and protocols. These will be shared across the group and with all other involved and interested parties,” noted Dr Friedland.

Thank you and acknowledgement
“We wish to acknowledge Professor Salim Karim, a special adviser to the Minister of Health, a team of epidemiology and infectious diseases specialists from the University of KZN and the Netcare clinical team who are investigating the underlying cause and nature of the COVID-19 outbreak at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital for their exceptional dedication and efforts in rendering assistance to us at this time.

“As we have seen globally, COVID-19 is a highly virulent and contagious virus. However, we are confident that, given all of the measures and precautions that we have and, continue to, put in place, that we will contain the spread of this deadly virus.

“Our deep and heartfelt thanks go to all our healthcare workers, nurses and doctors and their families and loved ones for their incredible efforts under these very trying and challenging circumstances. We salute their efforts and remain deeply grateful to them all,” concludes Dr Friedland.


Issued by:            MNA on behalf of Netcare
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville and Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]