Spate of birth malpractice claims against Bara

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THE STAR

An unidentified child from Soweto whose brain was damaged at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital allegedly due to negligence. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko.

Johannesburg - Thandi* will for the rest of her life be the hands that dress, care and feed her son because of allegedly botched medical care at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital – commonly known as Bara.

The Soweto mother has struggled since her 8-year-old son, who must breathe on an oxygen machine, was born with cerebral palsy.

She has filed a medical malpractice claim against the province. Her son is one of 86 cases the hospital faces in the 2012/2013 period.

The amount of all the pending claims is R420 million, and of these, 80 percent are for alleged brain damage at birth.

Almost a third of medical malpractice claims in Gauteng are against Bara.

This was revealed by MEC of Health Hope Papo in a written reply to DA Gauteng health spokesman Jack Bloom’s questions in the legislature.

For Soweto mom Louise*, her little girl’s birth at Bara four years ago changed the course of both their lives irreversibly. She was told by hospital doctors that she needed an emergency caesarean, but waited more than eight hours for the procedure.

By the time her baby was born, she was blue and had suffered brain damage.

“It has changed my life in that I need to think for her, I need to do for her… The fact is that you are raising someone who can never do something for herself,” said Louise. “You teach them on a daily basis things we take for granted.”

Louise hasn’t worked since her daughter was born and hopes that when her medical negligence claim is settled, she will have the money to return to a more normal life.

Thandi*, another Soweto mother, spent three days in labour before she was given a caesarean, and says her baby suffered asphyxiation.

She, too, has stopped working because she feels that, as a mother, she is the only one who knows how to care for her child properly.

“A normal child would be going to school and doing things for himself,” she said. “ It’s like having a baby for eight years.”

For the 2012/2013 period, there were 306 negligence claims in total against the province, amounting to R1.3 billion. Of these, 155 are for damage at birth, mostly “negligence resulting in mental retardation and cerebral palsy”.

There are two R20m claims for negligence leading to a baby’s blindness at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, and a R20m claim for birth damage at Far East Rand Hospital.

Gary Austin, the specialist lawyer representing both Thandi and Louise, said Bara wasn’t an isolated case.

“I think the substandard care is equal throughout. I’ve got claims against almost every hospital in Gauteng,” he said.

He added that the number of medical negligence claims had increased, but this was due to a number of factors, including victims being able to use technology to get information and bring their claims forward.

Mervyn Joseph, director of Joseph’s Incorporated Attorneys, which specialises in medical malpractice, said he made no distinction between Bara and other hospitals.

He said a high number of claims against Bara likely pointed to a corrupt official within the hospital, who may be passing on information on old cases and finding clients for unscrupulous lawyers.

“There is an alarming number of claims against the province, but I think it is sinister if it is identified that suddenly there is a spate of claims against (Bara).”

Gauteng Department of Health spokesman Simon Zwane said that considering that 200 000 babies were born in the province annually, the number of claims arising from what is alleged to be negligent behaviour was minimal.

He said staff had received extra training in obstetrics, and equipment had been improved over the past year.

Zwane noted the province provided care and equipment for children who had been injured at birth.

* Not their real names.

theresa.taylor@inl.co.za

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