Things could have been different, says minister on baby deaths

2010-07-23 13:32

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane has decided to investigate allegations of negligence following six baby deaths at a Johannesburg state hospital, after hearing horrific tales from the grieving parents.

Mokonyane, flanked by Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, said today: “They’ve given us their own version. Those issues are going to be followed up.

“This is not information we are going to throw away. Disciplinary measures have to be taken and they will be taken.”

The premier and MEC met with the parents of five of the six premature babies who died of gastro on May 18 and 19 at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital (formerly Johannesburg General), to brief them on a report which exonerated the hospital of negligence.

The report, released on Wednesday, concluded that the babies had died of a “very virulent” strain of the norovirus, which causes gastroenteritis.

It found there were “no specific acts of negligence” and that the “general level of medical care was good”.

But after a two-hour meeting with the parents, Mokonyane and Mahlangu emerged looking upset, and shortly thereafter told reporters of incriminating allegations against a specific team of nurses.

The parents had told them they would arrive at the hospital ward and find their babies had not been cleaned up after vomiting.

Also, the babies had been left to lie in wet and soiled incubators.

Often, the same syringes would be used on different babies.

The parents said they noticed their babies had diarrhoea and had lost weight, but that the nurses would not give them any information about that.

Mokonyane said: “On calling them, the nurses would not respond while eating and gossiping about each other. The team that has done all those things is known by all the parents, even the CEO knows them.”

One father said he arrived at the ward to be told his baby had died, but that no one knew where his baby was.

Also, parents were sometimes allowed to see their babies for five minutes only, before being told to leave again.

The parents complained they took care to wear protective clothing when they came into contact with their babies, but that the doctors did not do the same.

Mokonyane said: “We are going to be looking at all these issues and comb through everything. On the running of the hospital yes, there has to be an investigation. Those teams the parents referred to, they must be approached if necessary and internal disciplinary procedures will have to take place.”

The MEC was asked about a report submitted to Parliament this week which claimed that the virus spread through dirty milk bottles infected with the deadly klebsiella bacteria.

Mahlangu said she was not aware of the report, but would have preferred that the investigators contacted her first to discuss their findings.

According to the MEC’s report, compiled by eight health experts, there was no sign of klebsiella.

Asked whether the report released by the MEC on Wednesday would now be revised, Mokonyane said it was a “final report“, but qualified this by saying it was the final report “on the clinical side”.

After speaking to the parents, more information would be gathered in a hospital investigation into the conduct of the nurses.

No compensation had been offered to the families but if the parents decided to institute claims “we will co-operate”.

“Things could have been different,” Mokonyane said.

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