The Western Cape High Court has referred a medical case, in which a minor patient (12) suffered brain damage during an operation, back to court for further hearing, saying it erred in its findings.

According to a Cape Times report, Judge Patrick Gamble ruled a prima facie case of negligence was made by the plaintiff Philippa van Zyl on behalf of the minor patient, as it should have found that there was substandard treatment of a laryngospasm, a sudden spasm of the vocal cords, by an anaesthetist employed by the Health Department.

Gamble had granted the plaintiff’s application for appeal after the court a quo granted absolution to the provincial Department of Health.

The case for damages will now be further heard by the court a quo.

According to court documents, the patient underwent routine surgery at Tygerberg Hospital in Bellville for repair of a left inguinal hernia.

As the patient was being revived from the anaesthetic he experienced a laryngospasm, causing his brain to be deprived of oxygen for an appreciable time – so-called hypoxia – which, it is claimed, resulted in the patient suffering anoxic brain damage.

The Cape Times report says the initial trial proceeded before Judge Lister Nuku, who heard the expert evidence on behalf of the plaintiff of, inter alia, an anaesthetist, a neurosurgeon and a clinical neuropsychologist.

‘At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant successfully applied for absolution from the instance,’ court documents read.

Gamble said absolution was granted solely on the basis that the plaintiff had ‘failed to adduce sufficient evidence to make out a case for negligence on the part of the defendant’.

‘Importantly, the view held throughout by (expert witness and anaesthetist) Professor Lundgren (in her expert report to the patient’s attorneys, her expert summary and her viva voce evidence) was that Dr Ramklass had not restored the patient’s oxygen supply in time so as to avoid the onset of hypoxia. She never deviated from that view.’

The appeal succeeded with a costs order made and remitted back to the court a quo for further hearing.

Full Cape Times report

Judgment