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Durban - A hospital botch-up could have caused the death of a Durban man, according to a patient who says his file was switched with that of another patient a few beds away, who had the same surname and initial.
The family of Mpumelelo Ngcobo, 37, had been incorrectly told that he had died after he had been admitted at uMlazi’s Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital on the night of September 12, suffering from diarrhoea.
Mpumelelo told the Daily News that he had been given medication meant for Mbukeni Ngcobo, who was admitted the same night after three days of severe headaches.
Mbukeni, 42, died the next day and Mpumelelo’s family were mistakenly told that it was he who had died that night.
Mpumelelo alleges that he was given Mbukeni’s medicine, and without the correct treatment, Mbukeni had died.
Mbukeni was buried at his Folweni home, outside uMlazi, last Sunday.
He told Mbukeni’s family about the alleged mix-up on Wednesday and they responded with shock and disbelief.
“I’m puzzled. This is news we had not expected to hear,” said Mbukeni’s stepmother, Busisiwe Ngcobo.
“His brother went to get his body from the state mortuary and he was not told all of this.”
She said Mbukeni had been put on a drip and had a spinal tap on the night he was admitted to hospital.
“He was in a lot of pain when he was taken to hospital, he had been very sickly for a while before being transported to hospital,” said the elderly, blind woman.
Mpumelelo was admitted into ward A2 and used Bed 6, while Mbukeni, who arrived later, was allocated Bed 4 in the same ward.
He said that at about 6pm on September 13 a nurse administered a drip to his hand and opened the file at his bedside to see when he would be discharged.
“The file had the name Mbukeni Ngcobo in it and at the time I had assumed that was the doctor treating me because further down the page was written M Ngcobo and I had also assumed that was me,” he said.
Mpumelelo said he then fell asleep and the next morning he found out that a patient in his ward had died. He said he had thought nothing of the death until a doctor came to his ward and asked for Mbukeni Ngcobo.
“I was shocked because that was the name in my file. I told a nurse and she went to call the doctor. The doctor came and said he had been looking for me, and asked if I was okay. He asked me if I would have a problem with being discharged, and I said no,” he said.
Mpumelelo said he knew something was wrong when the doctor asked the nurse if his family had been contacted and the nurse had said yes.
“I heard the doctor saying: ‘This was a disaster.’”
He said the ward matron took him to her office saying that he had a visitor. “On the way she kept on telling me to remain calm and explained to me that my file had been mistakenly swopped with Mbukeni Ngcobo’s file. She said I had been given someone else’s medication. She said mistakes do happen.
“I walked into the office to find my sister (who) had been crying and she told me that the family had been told that I had died. She had come to the hospital to find out the cause of my death,” he said.
He said he then called his family to let them know he was alive.
“I could hear in the background as I spoke to my mother that there were lots of people at home and some were crying; they thought I was dead,” he said. “My sister had already posted on social networks about my death.”
Mpumelelo said when he returned to the ward more than 15 nurses came to his bedside to apologise, saying “it was a mistake”.
“One of them said they are humans and mistakes do happen. She tried to explain to me that the injection drip they have been giving me was not harmful. I was so upset, and I could not accept it,” he said.
Mpumelelo said he asked the doctors to write a letter apologising to his family, and the doctor had written the letter and had put it into his file.
“I was taken to see a social worker and she took my file. When she returned it, the letter was no longer there.
“I then asked for the letter, and she said it is better if my mother comes to the hospital to discuss this with her,” he said.
Mpumelelo said he only pieced the whole incident together when he took his file. “A nurse there asked me who had died, and I told her no one has died. She said: ‘But the reference number here says Mbukeni Ngcobo has died.’
“That is when I realised that Mbukeni is the guy they were supposed to give that injection to, not me. And he has died because they did not give him his medication.”
The KZN Department of Health and the hospital had not responded to queries put to it last week.