Vivian Warby

Horror stories of abuse and neglect at state hospitals dominated the first day on Monday of an inquiry into hospital-care practices in Gauteng.

During an emotionally charged day, family members broke down and sobbed while others vented their anger at the treatment given to their loved ones.

From a child who ate her own excrement after nurses failed to change her, to a young boy who was killed by a psychiatric patient sharing a ward with him, former patients and their family members painted a bleak picture of the state of public hospitals.

The inquiry, being conducted by the Commission of Inquiry into Hospital Care Practices, is investigating problems relating to patient care at state hospitals in Gauteng.

The commission was appointed by Premier Mbhazima Shilowa following ongoing and serious complaints levelled against state hospitals. The findings are to be handed over to Shilowa on September 23.

The inquiry, being chaired by Maria Rontho, will hear the hospitals' side on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sue Lubbe, whose sister Barbara Whittaker died in Natalspruit Hospital earlier this year, handed in photographs of her sister's body covered in festering, raw and open bedsores. "I want to know why my sister was left to rot to death," she told the commission.

Lubbe painted a horrific picture of the care her sister received. On many occasions, she alleged, she found her sister lying in her own excrement.

She lashed out at staff who did not turn her sister, which she said led to the infected bedsores. "I did not know how bad the bedsores were. But Barbara always had this rotten smell around her. I would put perfume on her and wash her but it stayed. It was only on one day that they changed the plasters that I saw them. I vomited into the basin at the sight.

"I saw my sister die for three months. I tried to get her transferred, but to no avail. The treatment she got was unacceptable. I will fight it to my death."

Since her sister's death in March, Lubbe has gathered more than 16 000 signatures for a petition demanding clean hospitals and better treatment for the public.

Joshua Mabale should have been the father of twins, but one son died shortly after birth because of alleged negligence and ignorance on the part of a doctor and nurses at Pretoria Academic Hospital.

Mabale believes his son was born brain-damaged and later died because of instruments used in the birth. Mabale said his wife gave birth to the first twin at 8.20pm but had difficulty giving birth to the second twin. It was only after midnight that she was admitted to theatre for an emergency delivery.

Cathy Ngqwala lashed out at nurses at Natalspruit who, she claimed, had neglected their duties. When her sister's child was admitted there, she said, nurses refused to change soiled children when she asked them to. "I saw a child eating her own stool. When I went to get the nurses, they were relaxing in the nurses' bay. They told me that I am not a nurse. They never helped the child."

When her younger sister was admitted there for burn wounds, she pleaded with Ngqwala to be taken home, alleging nurses were hitting her.

Lubbe also testified to seeing nurses slap a patient.

Long queues, the lack of help from hospital staff, and equipment shortages were also highlighted at the inquiry.