Durban – A Durban hospital is on the hook for a R4million damages claim after an ill patient who was allegedly prematurely discharged – and with “horrendous” bedsores – died two days later.
One of the several pressure sores appeared to be about 13cm in diameter, septic and infected and was apparently so deep that the bone was visible.
But that’s not all Happy Jabulile Nxumalo, a 52-year-old KwaMashu factory worker, allegedly endured when she placed her health – and life – in the hands of state employees after experiencing weakness in her lower body in June.
She was discharged in August, after about two months at King Dinuzulu Hospital Complex (formerly King George V Hospital) into the care of her unemployed daughter, allegedly without the medication that had been prescribed for her ailments because it was a Saturday and the hospital pharmacy was closed.
When her condition took a turn for the worse the following morning, her daughter Mbali Nxumalo called Netcare911 for an ambulance, but the private service provider apparently relayed the call to the province’s EMRS ambulance service, the letter of demand states.
EMRS, despite calling Mbali twice to find out whether she was still waiting for help, failed to send an ambulance, the letter states.
In all, about 10 hours had passed before Mbali’s family managed to raise money to hire a car to take her mother to the specialist Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, where she had also been treated in August.
They arrived at the hospital just before midnight, but by then, Nxumalo was in cardiac arrest and unresponsive. Although she had been resuscitated and put on life support, she died hours later.
“This appears to be a classic case of extreme government neglect on multiple levels,” Mbali’s lawyer Krisendra Bisetty told the Sunday Tribune.
“My client is understandably extremely distraught. She cannot believe the shocking state her mother was in when she was discharged,” he said. “She believes her mother was sent home to die and the other related factors just exacerbated this.”
The letter of demand, which was addressed to the chief executives of both hospitals as well as the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Health, states that staff had acknowledged in an internal report that the bedsores Nxumalo developed while in hospital had been “worsening due to strained resources in the ward”.
The letter states the patient had complained to her daughter that nursing staff had not turned her to prevent these pressure sores and that those on the day shift were “particularly unconcerned, rude and dismissive”.
According to the legal letter, the hospital staff had failed to provide a pressure care mattress; turn/position the patient at two-hour intervals; apply pressure care to the back, sacrum, heels, elbows and shoulders; ensure that her skin was clean and dry; and change her adult nappy, clothing and bed linen as required.
It adds that Mbali was “aghast at the unsanitary conditions in which her mother was kept. Specifically, for three consecutive days, she noticed faeces on her bed curtain.
“The patient also complained that:
The linen on her bed was not changed regularly, or at all, and was in an increasingly soiled condition.
Her nightdress had been changed once a week and was in an unacceptable soiled and smelly condition.
The adult nappy she wore was only changed once a day and therefore was soiled with urine, faeces and blood. When the patient complained to the staff, in particular the night staff, she was shouted at for not alerting them earlier about using the toilet, despite her lack of sensation in her lower body and resultant inability to know when she would require use of the toilet.”
Mbali is claiming R3.5m in general damages for severe shock, emotional trauma, psychological pain and suffering and depression, anxiety and distress as well as R550 000 for loss of the family’s breadwinner.
Noluthando Nkosi, spokesperson for the KZN department of health would not comment on legal matters. “The department has a complaints mechanism that serves as a platform to seek redress for those who are aggrieved.”
Last week, the DA said “avoidable medical negligence” was to blame for some of the 3832 public hospital deaths in Gauteng last year, and 1052 cases of hospital-acquired pressure sores.