Patients dying of avoidable illnesses, others having to sleep on the floor and those with infectious diseases sharing space with general patients – these are some of the allegations made by a senior Cape Town doctor who has lifted the lid on conditions at Eerste River Hospital.
The doctor, the former head of the hospital’s trauma unit who spoke to the Cape Argus on condition of anonymity, said doctors and nurses at the hospital felt trapped and were being bullied by managers. The doctor also showed the Cape Argus a range of pictures that appeared to corroborate his story.
But Faiza Steyn, spokeswoman for the provincial Department of Health, said: “The allegation of an absence of clinical governance is untrue. There was an acting clinical manager and now a permanent clinical manager has been appointed and will be starting on April 1.
“These pictures were taken in the middle of last year at a time when bed occupancy was 73 percent, and (the doctor), the acting head in the emergency unit at the time, needs to explain why he did not put patients in beds,” she said.
The doctor, who has since taken the department to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration for unfair dismissal, said he had felt compelled to go public with what he considered a “gross violation of patient rights”.
He left the hospital last August after his contract was terminated when it was deemed “irregular” following the translation of certain posts into specialist posts in line with the Occupation Specific Dispensation, which increased the salary packages of many doctors in the public sector.
He said one avoidable death at the hospital had involved a 62-year-old who died after he was not properly treated. “This man came to us due to constipation. Despite being treated by five doctors and having X-rays done, which confirmed he had ileus (intestinal paralysis), he was treated with enemas for constipation and was not treated for the correct diagnosis.
“He went into cardiac arrest and died. This is just one example of the clinical negligence I’m referring to… there were plenty such cases, but if doctors raise any questions, they get wrath from management and are told to mind their own business.”
The doctor was adamant that his going public was not a case of sour grapes after losing his job. He said he needed to speak up for patients who often had to make do with sub-standard service. “Most of these patients and their family members cannot speak up against atrocities because they don’t what they are entitled to.
“Most don’t know their rights and patient families are in such victim mode that they just accept anything the doctor tells them,” he said.
Steyn denied that the department was outsourcing foreign doctors as locums. She said the doctor had been dismissed after he was irregularly appointed by the hospital chief executive officer, who was his brother.
The doctor said his contract had been terminated because of a human resources error. He said his appointment had been legitimate and the department wouldn’t have employed him otherwise. He claimed he had been fired after he started asking questions about clinical governance at the hospital. He was in the post for about 18 months.
Damaris Kiewiets, head of the Cape Metropolitan Health Forum, said she was aware of problems at Eerste River Hospital.
“When the eastern sub-district forum raised the issue of dropped standards and poor clinical management issues at that hospital, they were simply told it was not their place, but a management issue, and only management would deal with it.
“This has become like a norm in the department… when health forums ask questions about grievances from staff we are often told this is a staffing issue and not a service delivery issue, but we all know that unhappy staff result in poor service delivery.”
A LITANY OF COMPLAINTS
Last week, the former head of the Eerste River Hospital’s trauma unit went public with the complaints on talk radio station CapeTalk.
Pictures taken by the doctor show:
* A suspected drug-resistant TB patient lying on the floor.
* Male and female patients in one room with no curtains to give them privacy.
* An epileptic patient lying half-naked and unmonitored on the floor with a plastic bag covering his genitals. The patient is lying behind a closed door, out of the nurse’s sight.
* A seemingly disoriented patient sitting on a chair after apparently receiving two doses of morphine. According to health guidelines, patients given morphine need to be on a bed and closely monitored to ensure their safety.
* Other allegations include:
* The department outsourcing foreign-qualified doctors as locums even though these doctors were not allowed to work privately.
* Doctors failing to manage septic shock cases.
* The department rushing the opening of a ward that was not fully equipped – a move that resulted in the sudden deaths of several patients. The ward allegedly didn’t have monitors, enough drips or nurse call systems.