Miscarriage of service

EARLIER this week Salome phoned Talk Radio 702, in desperate need of help. A 22-year-old woman was in excruciating pain and needed medical assistance as she was about to give birth.

The newsroom tried emergency services but did not get any joy because ambulances were not available due to a World Cup game that day.

A private emergency service, Netcare, responded.

Spot the irony of a radio producer calling a private company when this incident is unfolding a mere few metres from a public clinic.

Three minutes after the call was made, the patient gave birth, right there on the pavement, a few metres from the clinic. It was up to the bystanders to deliver the baby and cut the umbilical chord.

In a telephone conversation with me, the sister-in-law of the patient claimed they had been turned away from the East Bank Clinic and referred to the Alexander Health Care Centre, which was better equipped to deal with such complicated cases.

The clinic, the local health authorities and the MEC for health in Gauteng insisted the patient was not turned away but gave birth on her way to the clinic.

The only issue being disputed now is whether or not the patient was turned away, but that she gave birth on the pavement, a few metres from the clinic, is not in question.

Even if the MEC's and the clinic's version is true, where were the nurses in the aftermath? All they had to do was walk a few metres to where the woman was lying. Instead, the pictures show the woman lying on the pavement, the umbilical cord still attached to her, the baby on the side, and onlookers.

Not one person from the clinic was at the scene.

As the woman lay bleeding on the street, Salome decided the wait for the ambulance was just too long. She put the woman in the back seat of her car and drove her to another clinic.

She claims that she personally handed the woman over to the nurses there and explained what had happened.

Yet, the next day, in separate interviews both the local health representative Vusi Mazibuko and MEC Qedani Mahlangu claimed an ambulance had arrived and took the patient to the clinic.

When presented with undisputable evidence that this is not what had happened, Mazibuko was flustered but the MEC said she had made a mistake. Some mistake!

Even then, does she not have questions as to how a patient was managed and transported by a member of the public, when the clinic was a few metres away?

The fact that she had not arrived at the clinic, does not mean they can't treat her afterwards.

The MEC made a bold assertion that the woman was not turned away and this position is informed by a report compiled by staff at the clinic.

The same people accused of turning the person away are expected to give an objective account of what happened. So, based on information from the accused, the MEC decided this incident did not happen.

She could have just said she was still investigating and had only spoken to the clinic and would return once she had heard from all sides.

The MEC insisted she does not have any information contradicting the version of the clinic. My colleagues and I facilitated a meeting between the witnesses and the local authorities, provided photographs and contact details.

The witnesses told us, in front of the authorities, that they are willing to go back to the clinic and identify those who turned them away. Yet, the MEC said she has no information to the contrary. Did she, in meeting with her officials, ask whether any witnesses had been interviewed?

The local health representative claimed the police carried the baby to the clinic after it had been born.

Another witness, who I spoke to, claimed she carried the baby inside the clinic and was told the baby was dead.

She said the baby had a big bump on the head.

It was reported that the mother was displaying signs of a complicated pregnancy and was only due to deliver next month.

So clearly, this may very well be a stillbirth or given the circumstances and the absence of professional help, there could be some other cause of death.

Instead of documenting this and beginning steps to establish how the baby died, the police felt it more urgent to warn Salome that if the mother died while in the back seat of her car, she would be liable.

An inquest was opened only after the radio station intervened. As I write this, the parents have just been informed the baby was taken to a private mortuary and police are in the process of retrieving the body and taking it to a government mortuary.

It is true that there are many sides to the story and often the truth gets lost as the various sides vie for validation.

But even in circumstances where the truth is so elusive, the mere attempt to search and find it is praiseworthy. I am not arguing that the clinic is lying, but it is unacceptable that the MEC initially based her position on a one-sided story.

Even if all these witnesses are lying, at least listen to them before you conclude that.