A prominent Durban educationist has lodged a complaint with the South African Nursing Council after her dying 88-year-old mother was allegedly abused by nurses who threatened to "moer" (hit) her and then slapped and "knuckled" her on the head.

Dr Edwina Grossi, founder of Wonderland and Embury College in Morningside, said she was determined to highlight the alleged abuse to "get caring back in the nursing profession" and to prevent other patients from suffering the same plight.

Grossi's mother, Sylvia Akal, 88, an Alzheimer patient with lucid moments, was admitted on her deathbed to Netcare's St Augustine's Hospital in Glenwood on April 16. She died two days later.

The hospital responded this week by suspending the two nurses, who attended to Akal during the alleged abuse, pending a disciplinary.

When her mother was admitted, Grossi said she had been very weak, had vomited and her stomach appeared distended.

"My mother was frightened and I knew that, due to her condition, she would need someone with her all the time," Grossi said. Her mother's caregiver, who asked to remain anonymous, stayed with her in the hospital at night and witnessed the alleged abuse.

"The caregiver was quite distressed as she said that on the night of April 16 when two nurses came to attend to my mother they were very rough with her. Mom, who had a catheter and a drip, must have lashed out at the one nurse as she was frightened and was actually on her deathbed. The nurse, then slapped my frail, 88-year-old mother, whose skin was very thin on her arms, and the nurse with her said 'Hey ouma, I'll moer you'. This is total abuse," Grossi said.

"The nurse hit (her) on the arm and then knuckled her a couple of times on the top of the head. She told (the caregiver) that that was what she needed to do to patients so that the family would not see marks on the patient's head because hair covers the head," Grossi said.

The nurses also apparently tied her mother's hands to the bed but the caregiver advised them to untie her when the family arrived.

The caregiver reported the matter to her employer, a local nursing agency, the following morning and signed an affidavit for the report.

"St Augustine's Hospital is a private hospital where the fees are by no means cheap, therefore one would expect top class nursing service and care. This is contrary to what the public is paying for. And in my opinion, the many so-called nurses attending to the sick do not have the compassion to be in the profession," Grossi said.

In her official complaint Grossi listed several incidents of poor nursing services experienced by her mother. In one incident her mother was almost burned after she was offered cooked oats in a drinking cup. It had been poured into the cup from an urn and was burning hot. "Thank God I was there and felt it before it got to her mouth," Grossi said.

When nurses arrived later to change and tidy her mother, Grossi was asked to leave the room.

"My sister and I were just outside the room when we heard a loud "clang" and a pitiful (cry) from my mother's mouth. The nurse had dropped her bed so suddenly, she was obviously hurt," Grossi said.

Grossi alleged the family had to alert nurses to change her mother's drip and her medical chart had not been accurately completed.

Dr Augusta Dorning, General Manager of Netcare St Augustine's Hospital, said on Wednesday that two nurses had been suspended, pending a formal inquiry.

"This follows an alleged incident during which nurses were accused of verbally and physically abusing an elderly patient," Dorning said.

Dorning said both staff members were innocent until proven guilty, but the allegations were extremely serious.

"We therefore felt it necessary to suspend both staff members until such time as the investigation into their alleged behaviour has been successfully concluded. This entire incident goes against all that we stand for at Netcare St Augustine's Hospital," Dorning said.

"We subscribe to the values of care, truth, passion, dignity and participation. As an institution we exist to care for our patients when they are at their most vulnerable. Elderly patients and young children in particular should feel nurtured and safe in our care. That is why we will never tolerate alleged behaviour of this nature," he said.

Dorning met Grossi and the caregiver in her home to discuss her complaint in detail, but did not individually address each allegation in her statement to the media.

South African Nursing Council spokesman, Mapula Modiba, confirmed that Grossi's complaint had been received.

"This complaint will follow the due processes of investigation, submission to the preliminary investigating committee of the SANC which will take a decision as to whether there is a prima facie case against the nurse/nurses or not," Modiba said.

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