Escalating energy crisis putting lives of patients at risk: Healthcare professionals

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Healthcare professionals say the escalating energy crisis in the country is placing the lives of their patients at health facilities at risk. More than 41 000 South Africans, which are mainly healthcare workers, have signed a petition which was started by Professor Adam Mohamed, who is the Clinical Head of Internal Medicine at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.

They are asking government and power utility Eskom to exempt hospitals and clinics from rolling blackouts.  Healthcare workers say power outages have halted emergency procedures and placed an enormous strain on health practitioners in their daily effort to provide efficient healthcare to citizens.

Professor Mohamed says during outages, doctors treat patients with lights from cellphones.

“It’s becoming frustrating going to work and you can’t see patients. You have to switch on your cellphone. Procedures are being cancelled. And procedures are being affected. I’m scared about the potential death of innocent vulnerable people. If you look at the potential death, if you have resuscitation in a ward and there’s no power, you can’t see what you doing. Instead of playing catch up with COVID, we fall deeper into the whole. It affects the kitchen, giving people food, getting clean laundry, it affects the cleaning of equipment,” Mohamed said.

On Monday, Eskom implemented stage three rolling blackouts until 4pm and thereafter escalating to stage four until midnight.

Stage three will kick in after midnight every day. Eskom says this pattern will be repeated until Thursday.

The power utility has been struggling to keep the lights on, with its ageing coal-fired power generators.

Eskom spokesperson Sikhonathi Mantshantsha said, “Further updates will be issued on each day when significant changes occur. We are experiencing constraints from diesel suppliers. This is affecting the availability of bulk diesel at one of the sites which has a combined capacity of about 2000 MW. While we expect delivery on Tuesday onwards, should this situation persists higher standards of load shedding will be required.”

Despite the expectation of lowered stages, the utility says the capacity constraints will persist for a while.

According to Eskom, this weekend’s blackouts were used to replenish the pumped storage dam levels, which were utilised extensively over the past week. In its last update, it said it’s experiencing constraints from its diesel suppliers that are affecting the availability of bulk diesel to the Ankerlig and Gourikwa Open Cycle Gas Turbines, which have a combined capacity of 2 000 MW.

It warned that should these persist, higher stages of rolling blackouts may be required.