Mother compensated for negligence leading to neonate death

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A mother whose baby died two days after he was born following negligent medical treatment by Eastern Cape hospital staff will be paid R276,000 as compensation for her pain, suffering, loss of earnings and medical expenses.

The Times reports that the Grahamstown High Court ordered the Eastern Cape Health MEC, Helen August-Sauls, on 1 November to pay the mother R276,000.

On 18 March 2015 Zoleka Siwayi went to Mpilweni Clinic in early labour and was sent home. She returned two days later complaining of pain in her lower abdomen and was told to go to Frere Hospital. The clinic staff had identified that she was carrying a “big baby” and believed she might need a caesarean section.

Once admitted she was seen by a Frere Hospital doctor who diagnosed that her baby was in “foetal distress”. He gave Siwayi medication to suppress the labour because all the theatres were busy, and they had to wait.

The report says three hours later the doctor returned to her and decided to proceed with a vaginal birth. Two nursing students pushed down on Siwayi’s stomach, attempting to position the baby correctly. After a while the baby’s vital signs indicated it was getting fatigued. They then left Siwayi alone for an hour before they came back and prepared her for an emergency caesarean. The baby boy was reportedly born “very floppy” with low Apgar scores.

The report says the new-born was then transferred to the intensive-care unit. Siwayi was informed by another doctor that the boy’s skull had been fractured during labour. The infant’s head and body were swollen. He died two days later and his mother was discharged.

The report says obstetricians representing the Eastern Cape MEC and Siwayi filed a joint minute to the court in which they agreed that the staff had been negligent for trying to force a vaginal birth when a caesarean section had been advised. They also agreed that the three-hour delay had been negligent. In their opinion, “these attempts (of a vaginal delivery) were likely to have caused the fracture of the infant's skull.”

Doctors told the court that Siwayi began “eating excessively, (was) unable to sleep, experiencing severe sadness, being socially withdrawn…” and could not cope after the burial of the baby. Judge Thembikile Malusi ruled the lasting trauma, unresolved mourning and debilitating consequences of the experience had contributed to her depression and post-traumatic stress.

The report says the costs order made provision for loss of earnings, future medical expenses and general damages or pain and suffering.

The Times report Judgment

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