The shame of our public healthcare services

By Zingisa Mkhuma Time of article published Jan 30, 2021

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You will not find anything more depressing to read than the report of the Health Ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba into the June 2020 death of Shonisani Lethole at the Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital (TPTH) released on Wednesday.

The 34-year-old lost his life after he was, as the harrowing report reads: “not offered meals during his first 43 hours and 24 minutes of admission at TPTH, since the 23rd June 2020”.

Understandably, this unnecessary death, that the report confirms could have been avoided, has caused a public outcry via a social media hashtag #JusticeForShoni.

Lethole died, simply, on the basis that those obligated to provide care for him and other patients at this state hospital, shirked their responsibility during his hour of need.

The report says it is immaterial whether “Mr. Lethole was ‘officially or unofficially admitted’ he depended entirely on the hospital for his needs, wellbeing and care’,” which the Health Ombud’s investigation shows, he was denied.

“This took place when he was most vulnerable and sedated. The health care professional team of doctors and nurses conceded to the investigation to this negligent, callous and uncaring omission. This uncaring attitude represented gross medical negligence,” reads the report, which carries the meticulous attention to detail the Health Ombud showed, even in the Esidimeni report he made public.

The report notes that Lethole, “a severely ill male, athletic patient and without a history of comorbidities was referred from Kempton Park Clinic to TPTH” and he presented a “history of chest pain, difficulty in breathing and generalised body weakness for two days”.

He was subsequently admitted at the Casualty COVID-19 Isolation, a designated area, on a short-term basis, while awaiting their SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) test results.

“He was weak, he was on Oxygen, he was already being treated for COVID-19, he had spent the night at the hospital without supper and breakfast. The hospital had a duty of care for Mr. Lethole. He was pleading with his parents to bring him food for lunch or supper. Since Saturday, the 27th June 2020, Mr. Shonisani Lethole never received feeding after he was sedated and intubated at 13h00 until the day of his demise on the 29th June 2020, at 22h30.”

Acts of omission or commission preceding his death by the medical and nursing personnel at the hospital read like scenes out of a horror movie.

While this equivocation was taking place, a man died that day.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, who was tweeted by Lethole as he lay in hospital facing certain death, is aware of the matter and referred it to the Health Ombud.

He has the report. The ball is in his court to throw the book at these rogues who have brought the medical profession into serious disrepute.

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