A shocking account of the treatment of a patient in a state hospital is revealed in a Sunday Tribune report on a R4m damages claim lodged against a Durban hospital.

At a time when the nation is debating the introduction of National Health Insurance, it is worth recording the appalling conditions under which an ill patient allegedly suffered at the hands of apparently uncaring nursing staff, notes Legalbrief.

The report records in graphic detail the neglect Happy Jabulile Nxumalo, a 52-year-old 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 died just two days after allegedly being prematurely discharged with bed sores that were septic and infected and apparently so deep that the bone was visible.

According to the Sunday Tribune report she was discharged after about two months at King Dinuzulu Hospital Complex (formerly King George V Hospital) into the care of her unemployed daughter, Mbali Nxumalo, 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 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. Eventually 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 reportedly told the Sunday Tribune.

The letter of demand, which was addressed to the chief executives of both hospitals as well as the KZN 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’.

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.

Full Sunday Tribune report