An investigation at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital has revealed that there was no ‘authorised practice’ to dispose of limbs and dead foetuses in the linen room. News24 reports that Lungiswa Mvumvu, hospital spokesperson, said Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa called for an investigation into the allegations following recent media reports.
The report says Democratic Alliance (DA) health spokesperson in Gauteng, Jack Bloom had said on Thursday of last week that workers at the laundry had complained about the stress of finding foetuses and body parts in the linen, which is taken from wards and sent down a chute to the laundry.
Bloom said he wrote to the hospital CEO, Gladys Bogoshi, and included two horrific photos that workers had taken – one of a fully-formed baby, and the other of a foetus covered in blood. Bloom did not receive a reply.
“The hospital management has inexcusably failed to act by tightening controls to ensure that medical waste is safely disposed of. Laundry workers work in terrible conditions and risk infection from medical waste that they are not meant to deal with,” Bloom said.
Mvumvu said in the report that the investigation found no evidence of these reports. The department has encouraged staff in the linen room to approach the management and the CEO if they have any concerns. “We can, however, confirm that an incident of a dead foetus was reported in August 2017. A debriefing session was offered to all employees affected. A full investigation by different stakeholders was conducted and recommendations were implemented. Remedial action was taken against the staff member responsible for non-compliance and negligence,” Mvumvu said.
He added that the hospital has since reviewed and strengthened its protocols and procedures to “minimise the risk of non-compliance”.
“Infection and prevention control officers have implemented regular in-service training to enforce protocols and procedures. Hospital management commits to continue providing guidance and support to all employees to promote a safe and caring environment,” Mvumvu said in the report.
A woman who works in the laundry section of Charlotte Maxeke Hospital is quoted in a Health-e News report as saying she frequently deals with an array of horror finds among the linen – from amputated limbs to babies; dead and alive. “I have been working here for several years and we are never sure what we will find when we report for duty in what is called the ‘dirty’ section of the laundry. I have found dead babies and even babies who are still breathing wrapped up in bed linen,” said the distraught whistleblower.
She provided two photos: one of a dead baby that appeared full term and one of a foetus covered in blood.
The report says the laundry is gathered from various wards and sent down a metal chute where it lands on the floor to be sorted. The sheets are often blood soaked, covered in faeces and contain placentas and blood clots. These dead babies are found at the bottom of the chute, often wrapped in soiled linen. The whistleblower revealed that they find dead babies several times a month. They have complained to management but said nothing has been done.
The report says Charlotte Maxeke Hospital CEO, Gladys Bogoshi did not refute these claims. “Sometimes they are found disposed as part of the waste by unknown people and end up at laundry as the waste gets down the chutes. All reported cases are investigated and improvement plans are implemented to prevent recurrence,” she said.
According to Bogoshi, when a case is reported to nursing management, midwives check the foetus as well as the birth registers to account for their deliveries and proper disposal. She said that in some cases an unidentified foetus was found from areas outside delivery rooms which made it difficult to establish which ward it came from.
The report says the Health Professions Council of South Africa has clear protocols on how medical waste has to be disposed of, which includes separation and bagging of waste in line with international good practice. Waste disposal bags are meant to be sturdy, puncture resistant and colour coded to identify the type of waste. All waste needs to be contained in packaging that holds the contents to the point of disposal, and disposed of in a practical and efficient way that minimises any hazard. By minimising the handling of waste, fewer people will be exposed to it.
The report says the whistleblower and her colleagues are fearful of getting diseases from handling medical waste which they are not meant to deal with. “We have masks and gloves but is that enough?” she asked.
Bogoshi admitted that there were serious health concerns for the laundry room staff who are inadvertently exposed to blood borne pathogens which are linked to the transmission of Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B, among others. She agreed that the separation of waste was at the heart of the problem and said these matters were raised at the monthly meetings held by Infection Control Management.