FACT CHECK | Were 34 000 hospital beds occupied by alcohol related incidents after liquor ban lifted?

Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Police Minister Bheki Cele.
  • 40% of the weekly trauma cases seen by hospitals across the country are alcohol related.
  • A study found that that approximately 62 300 people died from alcohol-attributable causes in 2015.
  • Cele said 34 000 hospital beds were occupied due to alcohol related incidents since Level 3 of the lockdown came into effect. 

Were 34 000 hospital beds occupied because of alcohol related incidents after the ban on liquor was lifted on 1 June?

Minister of Police Bheki Cele gave this statistic during an ANC Ethekwini lecture about the role of the ANC during the Covid-19 pandemic on 11 June.

During the lecture, which was live on Facebook, Cele said: "Six hundred thousand people - they die through alcohol in the Republic of South Africa, come every year. I'm sure I'm correct with that number, but since the opening, 34 000 beds are occupied in the Republic of South Africa as we speak."

READ | Level 3: Trauma cases rise at 2 Cape Town hospitals just days after easing of regulations

News24 looked at both the statistics quoted, that 600 000 people die as a result of alcohol annually and that 34 000 hospital beds have been occupied since the ban on liquor was lifted as the Level 3 lockdown regulations came into effect.

News24 asked Cele's spokesperson for the source of the statistics, and was referred to Professor Andrew Nicol, who is the president of the Trauma Society of South Africa, and the surgeon, and the head of the Trauma Centre at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

In the lecture, Cele mentioned that Nicol and Professor Charles Parry, the director of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council, laid bare the facts of alcohol.

Nicol told News24 that it was not known how many hospital beds were occupied because of alcohol related cases, but instead said that South Africa saw around 34 615 trauma cases per week, prior to the lockdown.

Of these cases, around 40% were alcohol related, which translated to at least 13 846 patients presenting to hospital per week, across the country.

Additionally, trauma cases do not automatically transfer into hospital admissions.

READ | Western Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape hint at reinstating alcohol ban

Parry also confirmed the number of trauma cases seen by hospitals in South Africa every week, but said the number has since been revised to 42 000 trauma admissions per week.

On the revised number, 40% were still alcohol related which translated to around 17 000 people admitted to hospital per week.

Parry added that this number dropped by 65% during Level 4 and 5 of the lockdown, but that the admissions had increased since Level 3 came into effect.

It appears that Cele, who was not speaking from prepared notes, did not intentionally mislead about the hospital beds occupied by alcohol related incidents, but rather misquoted the figure and the reasons as given by Nicol and Parry.

However, both Cele and Nicol are in agreement, that the alcohol related trauma cases do clog up the system and places a burden on hospitals.

"Trauma cases take up intensive care beds, hospital beds and operating theatres and divert medical and staffing resources," Nicol told News24.

"You pay your money, you drink alcohol and you come and clog the system," Cele said during the lecture.

600 000 people die due to alcohol yearly

In terms of the number of people who die due to alcohol every year, the statistic quoted by Cele was also incorrect.

The minister said 600 000 die because of alcohol and alcohol related incidents annually.

However, according to a paper published in the MBC medical journal in 2015, the socioeconomic profile of alcohol attributable mortality in South Africa study found that approximately 62 300 people died from alcohol-attributable causes in 2015.

This study was also conducted by Parry.

News24 has asked Cele for comment on the statistics he quoted, which will be added once received.

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