Judge has harsh words for paramedics who abandoned elderly patient

Stock Image of ambulance lights
Stock Image of ambulance lights

The Labour Appeal Court made scathing remarks about the conduct of two paramedics who abandoned an elderly‚ sick woman in the back of an ambulance and then knocked off duty.

The court said the paramedics’ conduct compromised the patient’s right to dignity and proper health care.

The court made these remarks as it upheld an appeal by the KwaZulu-Natal health department‚ which asked the court to set aside the Labour Court judgment in 2014 which ordered the reinstatement of the two paramedics.

The paramedics‚ known as KW Pillay and SC Tembe‚ were dismissed by the department for abandoning the patient at the ambulance depot‚ and not at the hospital as required.

On February 17 2009 Pillay and Tembe were tasked with transporting a sick patient from Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban to Murchison District Hospital in Port Shepstone about 129km away.

The paramedics did not deliver the patient to the Port Shepstone hospital.

Pillay said he received a call from his mother telling him that his one-year-old son had an asthma attack.

The paramedics then left the patient at the Port Shepstone ambulance depot‚ which is about 10 km from Murchison Hospital and signed off for the day.

There was no official handover of the patient and she was left in an ambulance for a few hours. Ambulance crews at the depot refused to transport him to Murchison hospital as there was no trip sheet for the patient.

Following their dismissal‚ Pillay and Tembe successfully challenged their dismissal in the Labour Court. The Labour Court also ordered that they be reinstated from the date of their dismissal.

The department was granted leave to appeal against the Labour Court decision.

In its judgment passed on March 20‚ the Labour Appeal Court said it was a requirement that a patient be properly handed over to other officials.

“Failure to do so is regarded as abandonment of a patient and that before handover of a patient‚ the official concerned must always be with the patient‚” the appeal court said in its judgment.

The appeal court said the labour court erred in holding that the dispute was about whether Pillay told personnel at the depot that there was a patient in the ambulance.

It said the real question was whether there was a proper handover of the patient.

“One may add that the conduct of the employees is unacceptable and unprofessional. They abandoned a vulnerable‚ sick elderly woman in an ambulance so that they could knock off. The treatment the patient received is inhuman and degrading‚” Acting Deputy Judge President of the Labour Appeal Court‚ Pule Tlaletsi‚ said in his judgment.

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