Health department pays for botched surgery

Health department pays for botched surgery.
Health department pays for botched surgery.
Image: 123RF/Dario Lo Presti

The department of health in the Free State was more than willing to admit that a woman with appendicitis was left with a chunk of infected appendix inside of her after surgery performed by its doctors, but still refused to pay her damages.

Now the Free State High Court has intervened, calling out the department for pursuing a case it could not win.

Because of this, the department has been ordered, within the next few weeks, to compensate the patient in the amount of R425,000 - plus her legal costs. According to a judgment earlier this month at the high court by judge Soma Naidoo, the woman had already been fighting against health MEC Montseng Margaret Tsiu and the department for almost eight years since the botched surgery.

On September 27 2012, the patient was admitted to the Pelonomi Provincial Hospital in Bloemfontein, where it was determined she had appendicitis and needed an immediate appendectomy.

After the procedure, she was discharged from the hospital on October 2, but two days later she had to be readmitted to another hospital, Rosepark, where she had yet another appendectomy and cleansing, because a piece of her abdomen had been left inside her and her wound was found to be leaking pus.

It took 25 days for the woman to recover enough to leave the second hospital.

In her argument to the high court, the woman accused Pelonomi Hospital staff of failing to properly perform her procedure, of not bothering to monitor her post-surgery and of releasing her in an unstable medical condition.

She also accused the hospital of failing to give her the correct antibiotics or of appreciating that leaving a partial appendix inside of her could have led to her death.

The department, in its response to her arguments, was willing to admit the surgical team at Pelonomi fell directly under its control, and that the woman had suffered at the hands of the doctors, but then denied her suffering was due to any negligence on their part. It insisted the surgeons had not acted negligently "when they did not do a complete appendectomy, as it was prudent to defer a complete removal".

The surgeon at Rosepark, Dr Casparus Troskie, testified on the woman's behalf, saying he had discovered an abscess and "appendix stump" during his examination, and was forced to cut out the 19mm stump to treat her infection.

Surgical expert Professor Jan Bekker said that during an appendectomy, "the standard procedure is to amputate the appendix and leave a half centimetre piece outside the appendix ... so that this prevents infection".

"Prof Becker's opinion is that the surgical team at Pelonomi . did not identify the base of the appendix due, in his opinion, to a lack of experience and/or expertise," read judge Naidoo's ruling.

The professor believed the post-surgery care of the patient at Pelonomi was inadequate.

While the department did call its own expert, Dr Nicholas Pearce, a vascular surgeon, he was only able to say that after viewing the patient's records, he believed there was no negligence.

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