The maternity unit at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital faces R1 billion medical negligence claims, but is short of staff, operating theatres, and working equipment.
This is revealed in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.
According to the Gauteng Health Department, there are 26 staff vacancies, 4 of the 12 sonar machines are broken, and 2 overhead warmers in the labour ward are not working.
Last month, the cooling unit for two operating theatres was broken for 6 days and patients were operated on in high temperatures, which increases the infection risk. There is also an increased risk of hypothermia (abnormally low temperature) in newborn babies because of the nonfunctional overhead warmers.
Meanwhile, 50 medical negligence claims for a total of R992 million have been filed against the maternity unit in the last four years. Half of these cases are for cerebral palsy in babies, with individual claims ranging from R10 million to R51 million. The amounts claimed are high as they have to cover the cost of lifetime medical care.
There are claims for the deaths of five babies, requesting amounts ranging from R400 000 to R7 million. This is what is regarded as the price of a baby’s life!
The highest claim is R65 million for alleged negligence in treating a pregnant woman which resulted in womb infection, leading to an emergency hysterectomy and heart and kidney complications requiring dialysis.
Other sad claims include alleged negligence leading to removal of the womb, and cases of swabs left inside the patients after surgery.
The Department says there is a low number of deaths and infections in the maternity unit, but the high negligence claims show there are many cases of poor medical care leading to injury and death.
They identify the need for three dedicated obstetric theatres for emergency Caesarean sections, the creation of more posts for all categories of staff including Advanced Midwives, and an increase in theatres from four to five.
The tragedy is that money spent on negligence cases could have been avoided if this busy maternity unit was properly staffed with adequate equipment.
And no amount of money can compensate for loss of life and life-long injuries caused by negligence.
The Bara Maternity Unit needs urgent improvement as it is the busiest in the country, delivering 20 000 babies a year.
The DA advocates a laser-like focus on improving management and resources in all hospital maternity units where so much costly negligence occurs.