Motsoaledi jumped the gun - Sama

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is receiving treatment for pneumonia at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital. File picture: Ntswe Mokoena

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is receiving treatment for pneumonia at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital. File picture: Ntswe Mokoena

Published Jul 21, 2015


Johannesburg - A doctors' union has criticised Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi for his comments on the deaths of a teenager and her newborn and for suspending the two doctors involved.

The South African Medical Association (Sama) trade union accused Motsoaledi of “jumping the gun” and making premature statements.

Motsoaledi suspended the doctors, who work at Evander Hospital in Mpumalanga, for misconduct and ordered that criminal and clinical charges be laid against them for operating on the teenager in a ward and not a theatre.

“The manner in which the operation was done on this young girl outside theatre was never done before. I have never seen that in my experience of 32 years in the profession,” he was quoted as saying.

However, Sama secretary-general Dr Cedric Sihlangu said the doctors had done their best to save the mother and child and it was disappointing that someone with a medical background like Motsoaledi could say that. “As a reasonable leader, you don’t jump the gun and make utterances without considering facts,” he said.

Sihlangu said the pregnant 19-year-old had arrived at the hospital on June 15.

She was 37 weeks pregnant and had eclampsia. Google defines eclampsia as a condition in which one or more convulsions occur in a pregnant woman suffering from high blood pressure, often followed by coma, and posing a threat to the health of the mother and baby.

Sihlangu said the teenager was in a critical condition and having fits at the time. As doctors attended to her, an emergency services helicopter was called to take her to a bigger hospital. However, the helicopter never showed up and the doctors continued their resuscitation efforts.

While they were administering oxygen, her heart stopped.

Sihlangu said that when the teen failed to respond to numerous efforts to resuscitate her, doctors decided to perform a perimortem Caesarean section.

The operation is performed in an attempt to save the baby when it appears that the mother is dead or dying.

Sihlangu said there was no time to rush the teen to the theatre that was on the other side of the building. A call was instead made to the theatre for the equipment to be taken to the labour ward where the Caesar was performed.

Sihlangu said the teenager’s pulse had stabilised afterwards.

The chopper finally came, three hours later.

The teenager was transferred to a private hospital where she died 10 days later.

Her child died a few hours after birth due to low oxygen supply.

“In their hearts and minds, the doctors were doing all they could do to save the mother and her child.

“For people to turn round and call them names is disheartening.

“Their suspension is unjustified. Instead of being vilified, they should be honoured,” Sihlangu said.

According to Professor Guy Richards, the academic head of critical care at Wits University and director of the Department of Critical Care at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, the doctors did not deserve the criticism and suspension if their patient had already gone into cardiac arrest.

Richards said if that had been the case, the doctors should be praised for their heroic actions in trying to safe the baby’s life.

“What the doctors did was a laudable attempt to save a life. They had little time before the baby suffered brain damage,” he said.

Motsoaledi was quoted as saying that operating on the woman outside the theatre went against medical practice and ethics.

However, Richards said the reality was that operating in the theatre was for “nice, stable patients who can be transported there without risk to the patient or, in this case, without risk to the baby”.

He said that if an ICU patient was too ill to be transported to theatre, the operation took place in the ICU.

Richards said there had been situations where a pregnant woman had been declared brain dead and machines kept her alive to save the baby. He said the same could not apply to the teenager’s situation because the mother’s heart had stopped beating.

Health Department spokesman Dumisani Malamule said he could not confirm whether the chopper was late - Motsoaledi had taken all related documents.

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The Star

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