SAMJ: South African Medical Journal
On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574
OBJECTIVE: To determine the national distribution of intensive care unit (ICU)/high care (HC) beds and the implications for ICU bed availability in the envisaged national health insurance (NHI) scheme. METHODS: A descriptive, non-interventional, observational study design was used. A desk-top audit of all public and private sector ICUs, including ICU/HC beds, in South Africa was undertaken for the period 2008 - 2009. For this study, both categories were analysed and referred to as ICU beds, as they reflect the critical care component of the health service in South Africa. RESULTS: In 2008 - 2009, there were 4 719 ICU beds in the private and public sectors in South Africa, with 75% (3 533) in the former and 25% (1 186) in the latter. The majority of ICU beds in the two sectors were located in three provinces: Gauteng (49%), KwaZulu-Natal (14%) and Western Cape (15%), representing 78% of ICU beds (3 703/4 719) and catering for 54% of the country's population. Eastern Cape had fewer than 300 beds, North West and Mpumalanga had fewer than 150 beds, and Limpopo and Northern Cape had 66 and 47 beds respectively. With the proposed NHI scheme, the number of ICU beds available would be 4 719, which would translate into a bed:population ratio of approximately 1:10 000. However, there are large variations across the provinces, which makes the availability of this level of care in some provinces non-existent. CONCLUSION: While increasing the number of ICU beds in the public sector will open critical care services to more users, the NHI scheme would not solve the huge discrepancies of access to ICUs, and availability of critical care staff, across the provinces.