Lockdown | Netcare patient numbers plummet in April

Netcare said acute hospital patient days fell 49.5% in April 2020 compared to April 2019. (James Stent, GroundUp)
Netcare said acute hospital patient days fell 49.5% in April 2020 compared to April 2019. (James Stent, GroundUp)

Netcare says hospital stays by patients nearly halved in April as the lockdown kept people away from accidental harm while non-urgent surgeries had to be postponed.

Even day-to-day visits to general practitioners fell by approximately 50% of what they were before lockdown. More specialist healthcare needs like mental and dental health visits and admissions suffered declines of above 60%, the hospital group's latest results publication show.

While the Covid-19 health crisis has proven to be a blessing in disguise for some companies in the healthcare sector, particularly drug manufacturers, Netcare said the lockdown dramatically reduced demand for some of its operations. Elective surgery, emergency and trauma and blood tests fell among those.

"The real impact of Covid-19 was experienced in the month of April 2020, when South Africa was under full lockdown, dramatically impacting non-urgent surgery, medical and trauma cases, with acute hospital occupancies falling to 32.5%," said the company in the publication.

In April 2019, Netcare's hospital occupancy levels were double this rate at 65%.

"Emergency and trauma-related activity also fell dramatically, which is borne out by a decline of up to 60%in unnatural deaths in South Africa during this period," added Netcare.

The group said the relaxation of the lockdown restrictions under Level 4, which allowed slightly more movement of people and a limited level of non-elective surgeries to take place, allowed doctors to do more work and increased hospital patient days by 15% compared to April. But even then, the group warned that "Covid-19 will undoubtedly have a negative impact" on its financial performance.

But Netcare said it remains in a healthy financial position and has found many ways to preserve cash, including suspending dividends, postponing some planned projects and suspending share buy-backs.

To help boost activity, as social distancing is set to remain in place for longer, Netcare said it will be using its telemedicine platform more. The group said it has developed an "innovative" solution in this regard, which will allow patients who don’t have access to data to dial in.

"The solution is currently being deployed in Medicross and will be completed by the end of May 2020, although this is only partially expected to soften the impact of lower overall general practitioner patient visits in second half of 2020," said Netcare.

The group said the platform should be rolled out to all its hospital specialists in June 2020 and to its mental health division, Akeso and Netcare Occupational Health, by July 2020.

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