It is currently using only 16 beds.
We are not sure how long this will last. Hopefully by the end of the month we will go back up to 18 (beds), said the head of the ICU, Andrew Argent.
'We do have to close beds, almost daily'
Argent attributed the current downturn to it being an exam period which took nurses out of the working environment, and to sickness.
There was also a shortage of doctors - they had lost a number of critical care paediatric specialists, which created an area of pressure.
Spokesperson for the provincial department of health, Faiza Steyn, said the major difficulty with ICUs across the province was the staffing of nurses, and recruiting nurses in the public and private sectors was a major challenge.
We do have to close beds, almost daily, in ICUs as a result of this shortage, she said.
The agencies were not able to supply enough nurses. Up to 50 percent of the nursing staff in the Groote Schuur ICU at any given time were agency staff and on Sunday four ICU beds had to be closed at the hospital as a result of a lack of agency nursing staff.
Nursing did not appeal to many young people
At Tygerberg Hospital, two paediatric ICU beds were closed some months ago due to nursing pressures.
However, these beds have been re-activated as necessary on a case by case basis, she said. All the adult ICUs were still functioning at full capacity.
The Red Cross ICU has 85 nurses, but ideally it needs 122 with 20 of those being ICU trained nurses. We spend the bulk of our time phoning agencies and our own staff to come to work overtime, said recently appointed assistant director nursing ICU Janie Christians.
Due to the province-wide shortage of ICU trained nurses, the Red Cross had access only to between three and four of them from the agencies they worked with.
Since August they had lost two assistant nurses, a staff nurse as well as a registered nurse. They needed to recruit more staff but it was difficult to attract them as the salaries were not high and working hours were too long.
We're not flexible with our staff and with our time - we cannot be, Christians said.
There are 2 030 vacant nursing posts and the number of nurses applying each week to advertised jobs was laughable, Steyn said.
At a Nurses Day celebration in May, provincial head of health Craig Househam said 4 000 nurses had left the country in 2004.
One of the problems was that nursing did not appeal to many young people.
Very few people want to work so hard, Steyn said, adding that the department recognised this and was devising incentives.
Previous deputy director of nursing at Red Cross Children's Hospital, Ray Arendse, who has now been transferred to the provincial department of health to drive nursing issues, said she would be focusing on accelerating nurses' training.(Source: IOL, 02 November, 2005).