'Legal claims for horror treatment have risen to R21bn'

Negligence lies at the heart of traumatic state of hospitals, says Vavi

An infant's arm had to be amputated after alleged negligence by staff at Bernice Samuel Hospital, Delmas.
An infant's arm had to be amputated after alleged negligence by staff at Bernice Samuel Hospital, Delmas.

The SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has condemned the rise in the number of hospital horrors emanating from medical negligence in the country. 

Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said in statement released on Tuesday night that the union had noted with concern the spike in the number of horror stories coming from public hospitals.

 "The cases range from babies losing their lives at birth, babies becoming physically and mentally impaired for life as a result of negligence," he said.

Vavi added: "Mothers have been recorded losing their lives at birth, others losing their wombs after birth, the mass murder known as Life Esidimeni, unhygienic hospital wards, rotten food served to patients, surgeries going wrong, the lack of strong painkillers and many more."

He said the department’s latest annual report showed that potential medical legal claims are now R21.2bn, an increase of R1.9bn from 2019. 

"The annual payments made mainly for brain damage during childbirth are in the R300m range. At a time the treasury is cutting harshly into the marrow not just the bone of the health system," said Vavi.

He highlighted the horrific story Sowetan  published last month in which a infant admitted at Bernice Samuels Hospital in Delmas, Mpumalanga, for diarrhoea ended up with an amputated arm. 

"The official story was that she was put in a drip that led to her arm turning green, either due to the fluid in the drip or the way the drip was inserted, leading to severe damage to the hand resulting in its amputation."

Vavi  noted that in less that a week, as reported in Sowetan, other horror cases emerged about the same hospital. These include the case of Mkhumbeni Mandisa who now rely on adult diapers after a misdiagnosis and incorrect surgical procedure.

"Now she cannot hold her urine and must wear diapers. Families have reported their family members missing after dying at the hospital. Mbali Jiyane, 24, lost her womb. Doctors left a placenta inside her stomach after helping her to give birth through C-Section," said Vavi.

He said these revelations come when the story of gross neglect that led to Shonisani Lethole’s death in Tembisa Hospital still rings fresh, and the horrors of Life Esidimeni that saw 144 dead and eight missing the same year as major national-to-provincial budget cuts.

"The horror stories behind these cold figures paint a grim reality and are indicative of the crisis that engulfs the public health system."

He also said  people had lost confidence in public health because the public facilities had become symbols of death or impairment. The absence of Batho Pele ethos has led the elderly to refuse hospitalisation despite the gravity of their illnesses, he added.

"In the first decade of this millennia, it would seem the proliferation of the horrors in hospitals were far-fetched, but this has become an accepted reality."

Vavi  said negligence by workers and state officials were behind the traumatic state of public hospitals. And that broader systemic failure at the heart of these problems is based on three main factors: inadequate funding and understaffing, chronic shortages of infrastructure and incompetent management.

Vavi said the obsession with deficit stabilisation and fiscal discipline by treasury is set to cut the health budget by over R50bn in the next three financial years, in spite of the ongoing pandemic.  

Vavi  said  there was a severe shortage of equipment last year, including even N95 masks and personal protective equipment to fight the spread of Covid-19.

He further said lack of funding led the health department to freeze vacancies. In 2018, he said, there were 37,000 public health sector posts – medical and non-medical – that were unfilled, and even more are apparent in 2021 due to treasury austerity.


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