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Johannesburg - Doctors would not have needed their cellphone lights during an operation at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital last week, the Gauteng health department said on Tuesday.
“According to the hospital, they have battery-operated lights which they use in cases where there is a disruption of the electricity supply,” spokesman Simon Zwane said.
The hospital had 20 generators, two of which experienced problems during the blackout, he said.
The SA Registrars' Association has insisted that doctors were forced to continue a caesarean section by the lights of their cellphone screens during a power outage on Friday.
Asked whether a report to this effect in The Star was misleading, Zwane said: “Yes. It is.”
The newspaper's editor, Makhudu Sefara, said this was patently false, as the photograph accompanying the story and the doctors' testimony showed.
“We not only relied on the people who alerted us to the story, but we went out of our way to find corroboration, and in fact did find it,” he said.
The story was accompanied by a picture of doctors carrying out an operation in the dark.
Zwane was trying to deflect attention from the serious problems affecting healthcare in the province, Sefara said.
In its report, The Star quoted the association's chairman Dr Langanani Mbodi saying the electricity went out while doctors were about to deliver a baby.
Mbodi had received this information from doctors at the hospital.
“The mother was opened and doctors had to take the baby out,” The Star quoted him as saying.
“They couldn't stop, because the mother would have bled to death and the baby would have died.”
A battery-operated torch and a cellphone light were used to complete the operation. Another patient on a ventilator was kept alive by a staff member who had to manually pump the oxygen sack for about 30 minutes, after a back-up battery gave in, Mbodi said. He applauded the doctors on duty.
On Monday, the Gauteng health department denied that the outages affected operations.
“The power outage happened at 2am and the power was restored about two hours later, and in that period there were no operations taking place,” Zwane said.
Asked if the hospital had in the past used cellphone lighting during operations, Zwane said: “I don't know where they got the picture from.”
“The power outages cannot be blamed on the hospital. They occur in the electricity supply network that affects the entire area where the hospital is situated.”
Democratic Alliance spokesman Jack Bloom said he was encouraged by the honesty of Gauteng health MEC Hope Papo, who had earlier admitted hospitals were in crisis.
Bloom hoped more money would be made available for Gauteng hospitals.
“It has been estimated that the Gauteng health department needs about R4 billion extra every year to provide a proper service,” he said.
But the existing budget had not been spent effectively. Corruption and mismanagement had resulted in huge wasteage. - Sapa