Department washes hands of negligence

2010-07-21 14:36

The ward that kept the six premature babies who died at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (formerly Johannesburg General) in May did not have enough roller towels, antiseptic spray or thermometers.

Yet, the Gauteng Department of Health and Social Development has ruled out negligence as a contributing factor to the infants’ deaths.

Overcrowding, lack of equipment and staff shortages were the main reasons supplied by the panel commissioned by the department to investigate the baby deaths at the hospital.

According to the report, which was released today, the babies were infected by a norovirus, “a relatively common gastrointestinal virus that is spread by contaminated hands, water, or food”, as well as contaminated air.

The report said that “the cause of death appears to be related to a highly virulent outbreak of gastroenteritis (severe vomiting and diarrhoea)”.

Gauteng MEC for Health and Social Development Qedani Mahlangu declined to blame any person for the deaths, choosing to say instead that the department was responsible.

Mahlangu said that a number of factors had led to the deaths of the babies including deficient infection control and structural challenges, such as the position of a washbasin that required a nurse to walk past the incubators to wash her hands.

Mahlangu also conceded that the spread of the norovirus was made quicker by the overcrowding in the neo-natal ward, where incubators had been placed closer to each other than was ideal.

The investigation found that the nurse-patient ratio in the ward was 1:5 while the standard is 1:2.

Furthermore, the lack of routine supplies such as roller towels and antiseptic spray meant that adequate hand-washing did not take place.

She added that one of the preventative measures the department would be taking is to allow all hospital CEOs to obtain infection control equipment directly from suppliers without going through the Gauteng Shared Service Centre.

The department had not notified the parents of the results of the investigation by the time of the press briefing.

Mahlangu said that no compensation would be offered to the families since “a number of people die for different reasons in hospitals and it would be incorrect to offer compensation”.

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