Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union (HAITU) blames health department for death of expectant mother in hospital

Published Sep 15, 2023


The Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union (HAITU) has blamed the Gauteng Department of Health for the death of a 26-year-old expectant mother who committed suicide while in hospital last week.

Known as Refilwe Thamae, the 26 year old woman who allegedly committed suicide by hanging herself inside a bathroom at Kopanong Hospital in Vereeniging was at the time of her death, seven months into her pregnancy.

Her mother, Kedibone Thamae, indicated that her daughter had been suffering from mental illness.

The mother took her to hospital following her recent episode of mental illness, only to be informed of her daughter’s death a day after she was admitted to hospital.

It was recommended that she be sedated and restrained because she was “high risk”.

According to the statement issued by the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH), she was nursed in a “side ward due to her condition being triggered by crying babies”. Unfortunately, on the morning of the 9th of September, she was not in her bed. Her body was discovered in the bathroom after she had allegedly hanged herself with her head scarf.

HAITU general secretary Lerato Mthunzi, in a statement, said the death should never have happened, adding that Kopanong, as a provincial hospital, should have had a facility for mentally challenged patients.

“It is our view that this death could have been prevented if the hospital had placed her in a ward that caters for mental health conditions. The very fact that Refilwe had to be restrained, and was diagnosed as ‘high risk’ meant that she was not a just a danger to herself, but also to other patients as well. There is no justification for Kopanong not to have facilities to cater for mentally ill patients. She should have been placed in a psychiatric ward, which caters specifically for these types of conditions, not an ordinary ward.

“Kopanong is a provincial hospital and the largest hospital in that region. It should be able to cater to mentally ill patients, but it lacks capacity. Like many hospitals in the province, Kopanong is short staffed and it does not have facilities to house mental health patients. This death could have been prevented but unfortunately, the lack of resources resulted in the loss of life of a young woman and her unborn baby,” Mthunzi said.

Mthunzi said there are lessons to be learnt from the Life Esidimeni incident, where more than 100 patients died due to neglect.

“It means that we do not learn lessons if such deaths are still happening. The Life Health Esidimeni scandal, where 144 mentally ill patients died because of neglect, should have forced the department to do better.

“The conditions for treating mentally ill patients are still far from adequate. In townships there are no facilities for patients, and most people cannot afford the services of privately owned facilities. The only place for them to be treated is at the local hospital. It is very likely that what happened at Life Health Esidimeni will happen again if the state continues on this disastrous path,” she said.

In a statement, Gauteng Health Department spokesperson Motaletale Modiba said the matter is being investigated by the police.

“The incident has been reported to SAPS, which has already opened an inquest docket. The Department’s Quality Assurance unit will also conduct an internal investigation as this case falls under what we call Patient Safety Incident, which includes suicides under patient factors. The internal process takes 60 days to conclude the case, independent of the police investigation,” Modiba said.