A noble profession given a bad name

2013-08-25 10:00

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An investigation by City Press and Media24 Investigations reveals a staggering R1.9 billion in claims arising from 336 lawsuits lodged against the Gauteng health department. Disturbingly, 35% of those claims were lodged on behalf of parents whose babies sustained brain injuries during births.

These were badly botched by nurses and doctors at a number of the province’s public health facilities.

These children, many of whom developed the debilitating condition of cerebral palsy as a result, have little or no chance of leading normal lives.

In many cases, their predicament was entirely avoidable.

City Press conducted interviews with 10 mothers whose little boys and girls are unable to walk, talk or feed themselves. In some cases, they cannot even sit.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi blames it on a lack of supervision, especially in district hospitals, where there are too “few advanced midwives and obstetricians”. He’s right, of course. But there is more to it than that.

We also found an attitude of callous indifference displayed by staff responsible for these bungled births towards the mothers and the babies they delivered.

One mother gave her admitting nurse a referral letter from her clinic, saying she needed a Caesarean section because her baby was too big to be born naturally. But she says when she handed the letter over, the nurse shouted at her, demanding to know when she had become a childbirth expert.

Another mother claims her cries were met with a scolding from nurses who told her that they were not there when she decided to have a baby, so she should not disturb them.

Yet another mother told her admitting nurse that her baby was lying in the problematic breech position in her womb, but was dismissed.

One state doctor said: “The nurses just don’t listen to the mothers and they don’t administer the correct treatment at the correct time.”

If staff had listened to those mothers, chances are that their children could have had a shot at leading normal lives.

Motsoaledi said his ministry was addressing the problem by employing specialist health teams, each comprising an obstetrician, a paediatrician, a family physician, an anaesthetist and an advanced midwife in all districts. These professionals will then train their colleagues at district hospitals.

Aside from how to spot birth complications, we hope that aspects like compassion and care form part of the curriculum.

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