A Health-e News Service expose aired on Carte Blanche last night shows crawling cockroaches in the paediatric ward at the public hospital with one mother claiming her child had returned home with head lice.
Dailon van Greunen is fighting for his life. He was born two months prematurely and apparently sustained brain damage. In his second week, doctors told his mother, Tilana Bouwer, that it was only machines keeping him alive. ‘I asked, Doctor, can’t we switch off the machines? Because I don’t want to see my child suffer. He’s fighting for his life and we’re fighting and I can’t let him go on like this,’ recalls the mother.
Life support was switched off, but two months later, Dailon is still hanging on and Tilana can’t accept that her boy will never recover. She blames the hospital for his brain damage and wants to take legal action. Hers would be the latest in a series of cases against Dora Nginza Hospital and the Eastern Cape Health Department.
Three years ago Carte Blanche reported on Chrissie Botha who been awarded R700 000 by the court after the hospital ‘misplaced her baby’. They also told the story of Heidi Vena who’d miscarried and said she was left bleeding and unattended for hours at Dora Nginza. Her case is still pending.
Two years ago the Cape Times reported that the hospital was in dire straits with a staff shortage of 45 percent, leaving only one nurse to 90 patients.
Fred Rank, the then head of clinical governance for hospitals told the National Council of Provinces at the time that in the casualty ward the hospital had two nurses attending to 30 patients and in the maternity ward two or three midwives attending to about 10 women in labour at any time. Rank confirmed at the time that the wards most affected by the staff shortages were the maternity section and operating theatre.
Elize and Gideon Slabber managed to reach an out of court settlement with government after now three year old Heileze was born severely mentally and physically handicapped after the hospital failed to perform an emergency caesarean.
The Slabbers returned to South Africa in 2005 after a stint overseas. Elize went into labour before they had secured their money invested overseas which meant the young mother had to use Dora Nginza. ‘Before I came back (to South Africa) I went to the doctor and they gave me the all clear, everything was normal,’ says Elize.
Gideon confirmed that Elize had also been cleared to fly home. They couple were back one month when Elize went into labour. The clinic sister immediately referred her to Dora Nginza for an emergency caesarean ‘ she was concerned that Heileze’s heartbeat was too slow and that the baby was in distress.
However, according to Elize the hospital didn’t view her as an emergency case and made her wait for hours before examining her for the first time.
‘When I got there the woman who took my paper just told me to sit in a queue, we were about 20 girls,’ recalls Elize. It was three hours before Elize was examined for the first time – by a nurse. Next a woman doctor examined her and told her she was two centimeters dilated. ‘She checked Heileze’s heartbeat and said she wasn’t quite happy and maybe they should do a caesarean, but then they left me and told me maybe I should walk around a bit and come later,’ says Elize. ‘The staff were overwhelmed, the woman next to me gave birth and her baby landed on the floor,’ the young mother claims.
The parents-to-be went home and returned to the hospital a couple of hours later by which time Elize was dilated between seven and eight centimeters. The first time mother was given a bed in the labour ward 12 hours after arriving for the first time. The contractions were so severe that she was given permission to walk around the ward as it was too painful to lie down. ‘When I got back to my bed they had given it to another woman,’ she recalls.
They were also unable to monitor Heilize’s heartbeat as the monitor was broken.
‘I told the nurse that I had to give birth now and she told me I would have to keep it there as there was no one to help me at that moment,’ says Elize.
Eventually after 15 minutes a distressed Elize was placed on a steel trolley where she was forced to give birth in full view of all the other mothers. Her husband was not allowed to be with her. Over 12 hours after reporting for an emergency caesarean, Elize gave birth with the help of two nurses. She was given an episiotomy, a cut into the perineum and vagina to open a gap for the birth.
Heileze was whisked away by the nurses and according to Elize she was never cleaned, only stitched up about 3 hours after giving birth without any anaesthetic. When she eventually saw her baby, Heileze was ‘fitting’ according to Elize. Three days later the doctor told Elize her baby was brain damaged and blind. Today the toddler is cared for by a nurse ‘ She will never be independent, cannot even swallow food, only started sitting by herself very recently and is unable to walk. Her life expectancy is 15 years at most.
The Slabbers have been awarded over R1-million in an out of court settlement.
Both the Slabbers and Bouwers are appalled at the conditions their children have been exposed to at the hospital.
‘There are cockroaches here and there and the prem unit is terrible. They got me a bed to sleep in and the next morning I was covered in red bumps,’ says Bouwer.
Slabber concurs: ‘It’s a bloody dirty place’¦sorry to say, but it’s dirty. When my child came home one week she came back home with head lice, I mean for God’s sake, head lice. And bitten by cockroaches’¦did you know cockroaches can bite?’
Charl and Aletta Ferreira from Despatch have also decided to sue after their twin boys Divan and Evan were born prematurely two years ago. They were normal and healthy at birth and then they went blind, allegedly due to negligence on the part of the hospital when they were given excess oxygen.
‘It’s been hard, very hard’¦we’ve had fights, me and Charl because we didn’t know how to really deal with it. We haven’t really spoken about our children’s blindness, how it really affects both of us, sometimes we get into so such big arguments that we decide we want to get divorced because both of us can’t handle it anymore,’ says Aletta.
Their case is pending.
Dora Nginza’s staff are so overburdened by work that they sometimes take it out on patients, hospital superintendent Dr Aydin Vehbi has admitted.
Speaking to Health-e on an investigative programme aired on Carte Blanche last night Vehbi said his staff chronically worked under stress and that large numbers of healthcare workers are on extended sick leave for depression or depression-related disease placing a further burden on the staff.
Vehbi was not happy to do the interview as his administrative bosses had given him no assurance that, whatever he said, they would protect him.
Not a single nurse or doctor has been dismissed as a result of the litany of complaints alleging gross negligence, even though some of the cases ended up in court.
‘I don’t know how politically correct it is for me to say, but I would like the authority’¦or I need the authority, to dismiss staff when they’ve been found guilty by due process and not have to rely on somebody sitting hundreds of kilometres away in Bisho, who it comes across as a piece of paper, and that process takes forever. As I said, since I’ve been here, I haven’t seen anyone being dismissed, even though we’ve had numerous processes and submitted numerous disciplinary cases for that specific purpose, requesting, or submitting the fact that in a disciplinary hearing somebody was found guilty and it was a dismissible offence,’ says Vehbi.
Vehbi has also been unable to fill the support staff posts. ‘If we place an advert and there are interviews, then for some reason the interviews are challenged by the unions. It just always seems to be something and we never get an adequate number of staff,’ he says.
For the 1,6-million people living in the Port Elizabeth metropole, most don’t have access to medical aid and Dora Nginza is the only place where they can access specialised maternity and infant care.
It is hoped that a new Midwife Obstretric Unit that will handle normal, uncomplicated births, like the clinics around town, will soon open at Dora Nginza. It is hoped that it will lighten the load on the specialist staff.
Dr Vehbi says he would not stay in his job if he didn’t think there was some light at the end of the tunnel. ‘We come to work every day, we do the best we can, we hope its going to change…we persist in the things that needs to be change. The process that we need to go through to get changes made on credibly convoluted and difficult to get through, but we try and persist.
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