In Practice

COVID-19: May hospitals in one province of South Africa reserve empty beds for patients from their province and turn down emergency requests from other provinces?

D J McQuoid-Mason


The new 501Y.V2 variant of COVID-19 has led to a rapid increase in the number of persons infected with the virus in South Africa, and state and private hospitals are having to turn patients away. Although it is common practice for patients to be transferred between provinces for specialist care, the upsurge in the COVID-19 pandemic has led to some hospitals considering reserving intensive care and critical care beds for COVID-19 patients from their province. The Constitution provides that nobody may be refused emergency medical treatment, nor may they be unfairly discriminated against. This is also implicit in the ‘equitable’ provision of healthcare services referred to in the National Health Act 61 of 2003. The Critical Care Society of Southern Africa COVID-19 guidelines, or other similar widely accepted guidelines, may be used, provided they do not unfairly discriminate against patients on the basis of age. According to the Constitution, a hospital that wishes to turn away an emergency treatment request from another province because it is reserving beds for COVID-19 patients from its home province will have to show that it is ‘reasonable and justifiable’ to do so. It will have to show that the other province’s patient was being subjected to the same criteria for admission as its home province COVID-19 patients, because, for instance, occupation of the bed by another COVID-19 patient from the home province was imminent.

Author's affiliations

D J McQuoid-Mason, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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COVID-1; Critical care guidelines; Reserving of beds; Refusal of transfers; Legal requirements

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2021;111(4):304-306. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2021.v111i4.15554

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-02-15
Date published: 2021-02-15

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