RTI ignored doctor’s advice to stop fitness tests

2013-07-09 00:00

THE RTI Recruitment Commission of Inquiry yesterday heard how the Transport Department ignored calls from Northdale Hospital, urging them to stop or postpone the fitness exercise to avoid “disaster”.

This was the testimony yesterday by Dr Llewellyn Patrick Kenny, who ­treated Thamsanqa Dlamini, a ­participant in the exercise, on ­December 27.

“I was called by a paramedic ­informing me that they would be ­sending about eight patients from Harry Gwala stadium [to Northdale]. So I prepared the chairs and the staff that would be assisting these patients,” said Kenny, the ­deputy head of the emergency and trauma unit at Northdale Hospital.

He said EMRS indicated that they would bring in patients who were ­suffering from dehydration, hyperthermia and exhaustion.

After the initial eight patients ­arrived, more and more started ­flooding into the hospital, being brought in by paramedics. Altogether around 30 people were treated there on December 27. Yet more recruits were treated at Edendale and Grey’s hospitals, with a total of over 200 ­recruits receiving medical treatment over the two-day period.

Kenny said when the patients ­arrived at the hospital, two were in a serious condition that had similar symptoms of hyperthermia, dehy­dration and exhaustion, including shivering profusely. Kenny treated Dlamini, who was shivering in an ­abnormal way and was mumbling to himself and not making sense.

Kenny said they were expecting to treat patients who would be walking in, but were shocked to see the ­condition some of the patients were in.

“I did not know that the patients we were waiting for would require ­special treatment because I was not even aware that this fitness exercise was [happening at the time],” he said.

He said Northdale was a district hospital that only treated minor ­cases, with serious cases being ­referred to either Grey’s or Edendale hospitals.

Kenny said after he had treated Dlamini, he regained consciousness abruptly and was able to tell them his name, before losing consciousness again. “I then tried to call the ­Transport Department to get [contact details for] Thami’s next of kin, so I could call them to let them know that he was in hospital,” he said.

Kenny said he was sent from ­pillar to post without any help, and he finally spoke to Sindi Zwane, an ­official at the Transport Department.

“We were overwhelmed by the overload of patients flooding the ­hospital from the exercise, so I suggested to Sindi that they suspend or ­postpone the event because the ­hospital was not coping,” he said.

But Kenny said Zwane did not pay any attention to what he was saying to her.

The following day (December 28) Kenny learned that two participants, Sibonakaliso Mhlanga and Lindo­kuhle Kunene, had died the previous night at Northdale, and he again tried to call Zwane, but could not reach her.

He wanted her to cancel the event ­because people were dying at ­Northdale, and there were reports of people dying at other hospitals as well.

“I could not get hold of Sindi and someone else picked up the phone and told me that Sindi said she was not in charge.” He said he was told to “stop harassing her [Sindi]”.

He said on December 27 they had managed to stabilise the patients, but the next day the situation deteriorated to the point where it became a ­“disaster”. As he realised the hospital was ­unable to cope, he informed the ­hos­pital CEO and the board chair­person that they needed to get the Transport Department to cancel the exercise.

Kenny said the hospital was never informed that the fitness tests were continuing on December 28.

During cross-examination, senior counsel Ravi Padayachee, for the ­Transport Department, tried to show the commission that Kenny had failed to activate mass disaster management protocols when he saw people ­flooding into the hospital. He said Kenny had forgotten his ­doctor’s Hippocratic Oath by leaving ­at 4 pm when he could have stayed longer. Kenny, however, said he had left his contact numbers in the event of emergency as he lived only 10 km away.

Kenny continues being ­cross­examined today.

• thobani.ngqulunga@witness.co.za

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