A mother’s attempt to claim damages from the Eastern Cape health department after her child suffered brain damage has failed in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).
The court found the mother could not prove medical negligence by hospital staff during the birth of her baby at Frere Hospital.
On October 18, 2010, the mother gave birth to her son by way of an emergency caesarean section.
He was monitored in the nursery ward after being born with mild respiratory distress, and a day later, was placed in the care of his mother in the maternity ward, where it was discovered he had jaundice.
A paediatrician provided supportive treatment and administered intravenous haemoglobin and intensive phototherapy, but the boy’s condition did not change and a blood transfusion was needed, the SCA judgment detailed.
“Blood was ordered from the National Blood Services for a blood exchange transfusion to be performed.
“Before the arrival of the blood, and approximately at midday on 21 October 2010, the (mother) requested that (the baby) be transferred from Frere Hospital to Life Beacon Bay Hospital, a private facility in East London.
“Throughout the time that (the baby) was at Frere Hospital, and until the blood transfusion, he did not show any symptoms of neurological complications,” the judgment read.
The baby boy was later diagnosed with “dystonic cerebral palsy and profound developmental delay complicated by epilepsy, intellectual disability, and a hearing defect”.
The cause of the cerebral palsy was hyperbilirubinemia, which was the result of high levels of total serum bilirubin level (TSB) in his blood during the neonatal period.
“The main focus of the mother’s case was that the hospital staff were negligent for not immediately ordering the blood for a transfusion for (the baby), when in fact the laboratory test results on 20 October 2010 showed that (his) TSB levels placed him at a high risk of hyperbilirubinemia. Instead, they waited until the following day, October 21 2010 to order the blood for the transfusion... “The focus of the appellant’s case was that there was a delay of some 21 hours in the ordering of the blood after finding that (the baby’s) TSB level was above the threshold.
“In contrast, the (MEC’s) case was that fresh whole blood was ordered on 20 October 2010, and the delay was not attributable to negligence on the part of the hospital, but rather on the non-availability of fresh whole blood in East London.”