Probe and improve

Dec 07 2012 07:45
*Mzwandile Jacks

BEFORE his newly-acquired ailment, Vanayedwa Ndungwane was a jovial man with a calm conduct. 

The former computer programmer enjoyed nothing more than his weekend strolls into his township and meeting friends for a Friday shebeen drink, listening to jazz and discussing sports and politics. 

A couple of months ago, he felt very scared and humiliated. He had gone to the local hospital after he was referred there by a medical practitioner. 

The hospital had to use the high quality scanners at their disposal to check why he had lost his voice. He had suffered a mild stroke earlier this year. 

As is the pattern nowadays with South Africa’s public hospitals catering for the poor, he was shouted at and disparaged and scolded for having attended the hospital instead of going to a clinic near to his home. 

This happened shortly before he was told that the equipment that was supposed to check his throat had broken down. He was told to go home and no specific date was given to him to come back. 

Basically he was being sent home to die – that was if the sickness was serious. Nurses did not care whether the cause of his problem was serious or not. Luckily he survived. But his voice has gone very weak and his health has deteriorated a bit. 

There are many similar cases in South Africa. What reminded me of this particularly sad story was the news this week that hospitals were now being blamed over cancer deaths. 

According to a Johannesburg-based daily newspaper, two of Gauteng’s largest state hospitals stand accused of delaying the treatment and diagnosis of hundreds of desperately ill cancer patients because of broken machinery. 

The paper said Barnett Fine, a patient at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, died a painful death because the hospital didn’t have the proper medication and the health system had failed to treat him for cancer. 

Fine died in September this year and has now become the face of the campaign, which is demanding better care for cancer sufferers. 

Fine’s daughter, Hanna Neuhuis, wants her father’s experience to help in the fight for better treatment. 

Fine was diagnosed with throat cancer in December last year. In the seven months it took him to die, he was turned away from Steve Biko Academic Hospital because of waiting lists and broken radiation machines. 

The newspaper claims that when he was close to death, he was prescribed Panado syrup instead of morphine because there was no stock. 

I believe these things happen because little is done to investigate these cases. And therefore the scale of this problem keeps widening. 

Anywhere in the world, when there is a plane accident, even a slight one, it calls for a thorough investigation. 

And the outcome is often that the misfortune often produces critical messages for the industry. Then everybody in the industry learns how to do their jobs more safely. 

The state of South African public hospitals is far deadlier. Mistakes such as the one that killed Fine are a daily occurrence throughout South Africa. 

But these mistakes go largely unnoticed by the country’s politicians, and it looks like the medical community rarely learns from them. 

Politicians take an oath that they will serve the country truthfully. But on their job they soon soak up another tacit rule: to neglect the errors of other civil servants. 

The hospital’s bad behaviour is massive. Old aged patients are admitted and allegedly left to die because nurses claim “they are going to die anyway.” 

It does not have to be this way. A new generation of public hospitals needs to try to ensure that our health-care system does not cause people to die but saves their lives. 

I encountered a disturbing closed-door culture at two of government’s facilities I recently visited. When you complain about bad service, you are going to be given a run around, the worst service and might even not be assisted. 

This is bad and sad at the same time. During the apartheid era, you knew that the white person behind the counter could be rude to you and you conditioned yourself. But now the black person behind the counter does not want to help you at all. 

What do you do about that?

I hope that after Mangaung President Jacob Zuma will bring a new cadre of political leaders that will address these issues quite seriously and try to solve them. 

 - Fin24

*Mzwandile Jacks is a freelance journalist. The view expressed are his own.




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