Health Management Public Health & Health Systems

Class action against Health Department

The parents of the babies who died during a power failure at East London’€™s Cecilia Makiwane Hospital are now considering a class action against the Health Department. This follows the health minister’€™s denial that the babies’€™ deaths were a result of the hospital’€™s negligence.

YOLISA: Two of the four mothers whose babies died during a power failure at the neo ‘€“ natal intensive care unit of Cecilia Makiwane Hospital believe that their case will be stronger if they stand together. Leander Boutcher and Siphokazi Citashe say they are receiving assistance from different lawyers but are considering pulling their resources together in order to take the ministry to court.

LEANDER: If the four of us can’€™t stop them there’€™s going to be ‘€“ say for instance ‘€“ ten children that will die because of what has happened. Then what are they going to do because nobody stopped them at the beginning.  

SIPHOKAZI: Batsho bathi yi fault yabo, igenerators zabo zindala. Bade bafika ooNosimo endlini ‘€“ bathi sorry. But bazosinceda for medical expenses kuba ndingekho right ‘€“ asoze siberight mors. Bazakusenzela na free na for ishrink and stuff. Lent’€™ukuba bafuna ukusingcwabela abantwana. Ethetha ukuba lento uyayifeelisha njengomntu ongumama.

YOLISA: Siphokazi says the Eastern Cape premier Nosimo Balindlela told her and her family that ‘€“it was solely the hospital’€™s fault. She says the premier also told them that the hospital generators are quite old. These generators apparently failed to kick in during the power failure. According to Siphokazi, the premier pledged to help the family with all kinds of expenses including the baby’€™s burial. The two mothers received R5000 each but they say they are not looking for financial compensation.  

LEANDER: It’€™s not about the money but they must pay up. I personally think that even if they give me all the money in the world; it won’€™t bring my child back ‘€“ but they must pay up.

SIPHOKAZI: Hayi ndinomsindo ‘€“ andikwazi nozichaza ukuba ndinjanina. Ndinomsindo qha. Kaloku basimoshile ‘€“ iworse ukhubone uth’€™uqala ubanomntana uqgiba asweleke ‘€“ nyhani andikwazi nothetha mna ‘€“ ndinomsindo qha.

YOLISA: She says she feels very angry. That it’€™s hard to even comprehend her true feelings. Trying hard not to break down ‘€“ 25-year-old Siphokazi says this was her first child and the hospital broke their hearts. The two mothers are due for psychological counseling to cope with the loss of their children. For now, it’€™s difficult to manage.

LEANDER: This is when I feel depressed and I miss him a lot. I’€™m alone during the day, when my father and my boyfriend have gone to work. Now I sit and think and start crying ‘€“ just hurt myself to feel another sort of pain.

YOLISA: Trying to replace the emotional pain of loosing her child; 18-year old Leander has cut her arms. She has fresh, deep wounds on her arms close to her wrists. She says she has no intention of taking her life. But cutting herself with a blade is her only way of coping with her intense emotional pain.

Meanwhile, the Treatment Action Campaign [TAC] is also supporting the intention of the mothers to collectively take the health department to court.

PHILLIP MOKOENA: The critical thing we’€™re raising is that it’€™s about time that the government starts building the public health system, not only addressing emergency cases that come across.

YOLISA: Eastern Cape TAC co-ordinator Phillip Mokoena. He says this situation could have been prevented.

PHILLIP MOKOENA: When you look at the case of these babies, it’€™s a build up from reports that have been submitted [by TAC] since 2004 looking at the crisis at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital. Not only this hospital but also other hospital across the province that are facing similar challenges. That report ‘€“ in terms of looking at the equipment of the entire hospital ‘€“ also included the issue of the generator.

YOLISA: The four babies died after incubators and ventilators that had kept them alive shut down during a power outage. The generator allegedly did not kick-in.

After having a meeting with the hospital engineer; Mokoena says they have a different picture to what the Health Minister would like everyone to believe. He also believes that the health department is hiding something.

PHILLIP MOKOENA: The engineer of the generator gave us another picture of what has happened. In case of ward 17 [where the babies died] initially there was no independent UPS [uninterrupted power supply], it’€™s just a new system that they’€™ve installed now to rectify the mistake. I think on our side ‘€“ as much as we don’€™t have a report ‘€“ the full report from the investigation committee –  it clearly seems that there’€™s something that they’€™re hiding; the outcomes of the report. We’€™ve requested the report and we were promised that as soon as the investigation is finished, we’€™ll receive the report from the CEO but when we spoke to the CEO a week ago [after the report came out], he says the report is not open for public comments.

YOLISA: It’€™s not yet clear when they will proceed with their class action against the health department.

Both these mothers agree that taking the health ministry to court will not ease their pain in anyway. But they also strongly agree on one thing.

LEANDER: They must stand up and take responsibility. They must stand up.

About the author

Yolisa Njamela