Editorial | For this, heads must roll

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Family wants justice for Shonisani Lethole, who was allegedly starved to death by Tembisa Hospital staff.
Family wants justice for Shonisani Lethole, who was allegedly starved to death by Tembisa Hospital staff.


Shonisani Lethole’s cruel death at the Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital where he had sought medical help should not be in vain. The culprits, all of whom signed a pledge “to the service of humanity” and to “endeavour to practise my profession with conscience and with dignity”, should be taught a lesson.

Lethole’s death was summed up by one doctor as “avoidable and preventable”. But die he did, under the supposed watch of 19 healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses.

The callous and uncaring attitude of these healthcare workers, that the local entrepreneur endured from the moment he was admitted at the hospital on June 23 until his demise six days later, was laid bare this week, to the horror of South Africans.

Read: Shonisani Lethole’s death: Health Ombud lambasts Tembisa hospital for negligence

Based on health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba’s 204-page report, the 34-year-old was quite literally starved to death at the “hospital of horror”.

In his findings, Malegapuru revealed that Lethole was not offered any food for 100 hours and 54 minutes – that’s nearly five days.

He also found that the care given to Lethole, who was battling with severe Covid-19 symptoms, was not only substandard, but negligent.

But perhaps most damning was that had it not been for Lethole’s tweet to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on the second day of his torturous stay at the hospital, begging for help, the country would never have heard of the true scale of the negligence he endured.

During the ombudsman’s investigation, the doctors and nurses tried passing the buck on who was to blame for Lethole’s tragic death.

Medical negligence, particularly to this extent, is always shocking and heart-wrenching, but this is, unfortunately, neither new nor surprising.

Last year, the Gauteng health department reportedly paid out R15.6 billion in medical negligence claims. That’s right – R15.6 billion.

The Lethole report is only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds, if not thousands, of other families have gone through similar trauma, with many not afforded the closure of a thorough investigation.

Read: ‘You can’t have a patient bleeding and there is no one to clean up’ – Staff shortage blamed for baby deaths

Lethole was failed on every level by the hospital in his time of need. Yet the hospital wants to challenge the report, which it claims is misleading.

Once again, this shows a reckless disregard of the trauma Lethole’s family has already endured.

For this, heads must roll.


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