First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Paediatrician’s report of children dying in horrendou...

Maverick Citizen

PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS

Paediatrician’s report of children dying in horrendous public hospitals sends ripples through sector

Dr Tim De Maayer has been a paediatric gastroenterologist at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital since 2009. (Poto: Supplied)

In an open letter to the Department of Health, Dr Tim de Maayer, a paediatrician at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, highlighted the devastating consequences of a failing public health sector for young patients. Colleagues and fellow doctors have thanked him for speaking out.

On Sunday, Dr Tim de Maayer, a paediatrician at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, wrote an open letter to the Health Department. His message? Things in the public health sector are falling apart and children are bearing the brunt. 

Recounting the devastating consequences of load shedding, under-resourcing and water shortages on the young patients of Rahima Moosa, De Maayer asked, “Would you admit your child to this hospital?

tim de maayer
Dr Tim De Maayer. (Photo: Supplied)

“And if you wouldn’t, how do you manage to come to work every day, fail at your job of ensuring basic healthcare for the people you serve and still sleep at night?”

Since the letter’s release, the response from De Maayer’s colleagues, fellow doctors and the University of Witwatersrand — with which Rahima Moosa is affiliated — had been very positive, he told Maverick Citizen. For many, the letter put into words what they were already thinking.

“Doctors from all levels of seniority, I think, but a lot of the junior staff are saying… ‘Thank you for speaking out. This is what we have been wanting to say,’ ” said De Maayer. 

The Gauteng Department of Health had engaged with the CEO of the Rahima Moosa hospital on the letter, he continued. 

Nozuko Mkabayi
Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital CEO Dr Nozuko Mkabayi. (Photo: Facebook)

“There do seem to be some high-level meetings going on and I’ve been told that the Office of the Presidency wants the CEO’s response to the article. So, I think it’s gone up quite high in the hierarchy,” said De Maayer.

While De Maayer remains sceptical that change will come in the short run, he said he needs to give administrators a chance to “act and react”. A basic change he would like to see instituted at the hospital is its exclusion from load shedding and water shut-offs.

Maverick Citizen asked the Gauteng Department of Health about its response to De Maayer’s letter and the major issues it identified. 

Nomonde Nolutshungu
Gauteng health department head Dr Nomonde Nolutshungu.
(Photo: Facebook)

Kwara Kekana, spokesperson for the MEC for health in Gauteng, said that the provision of bulk services to Rahima Moosa fell within the purview of the local authority, adding that a stable supply of water and electricity was important not only for health facilities, but other key industries that needed to provide services. 

“The purpose of generators in our health facilities is to provide back-up power supply during planned or unplanned power interruptions. This is also the case for Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital,” she said. 

In his open letter, De Maayer claimed Rahima Moosa’s generators were too small to supply the hospital. 

On the issue of water shut-offs, Kekana said that health facilities had water reservoirs for backup water supply and Rahima Moosa had a borehole on site. 

Nomathemba Mokgethi
Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi. (Photo:Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

“The facility still experiences water challenges due to reservoir problems that supplies [sic] water in the entire area where the hospital is located,” she said. 

“Johannesburg Water supports the hospital with water tankers during such periods; however, this is not ideal. There is an urgent need for the relevant authorities to resolve the existing water supply problems that affect the area where the hospital is located.” 

Another issue De Maayer spoke of in his letter was the money “being wasted on paying negligence lawsuit compensations rather than preventing the problem in the first place”. 

Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital
Nikezewe Makhubalo waits to receive help for her sick daughter Anelisiwe, while striking civil servants protest outside the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Coronationville in Johannesburg on 20 August 2010. Striking health workers were blocking the entrances to several hospitals in Gauteng as part of a nationwide strike. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lauren Mulligan)

Kekana stated that medical-legal claims remained a concern for the Gauteng Department of Health. As part of the department’s “Mediation Policy and Mediation Strategy”, implemented in late 2019, it had taken corrective measures focused on “internal issues within institutions identified as the root causes of the issues around litigation”. 

“The adoption of the mediation strategy [as] interventions to deal with medico-legal cases has saved government millions of rands,” she claimed. 

Engagement and communication 

According to Kekana, the Rahima Moosa hospital has ongoing engagements with clinicians to address clinical concerns that arise in the facility. “Such engagements are not only welcomed, but encouraged,” she said. 

However, De Maayer argued that part of the problem in the public health sector was insufficient engagement from higher-ups with the issues identified by clinicians. 

Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital
Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Coronationville. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

“The MEC and all of those people, they haven’t seen a baby die because of the shortages that we face. And really, that’s criminal. I think that’s where it’s falling apart,” he said. 

“I think if there was communication, if they would actually come and join the clinicians and ask the clinicians and actually listen to the clinicians… maybe we will be in a different situation.”

De Maayer described watching his colleagues on the neonatal team of paediatricians admit children to the intensive care ward, switch off ventilators and speak to the parents of dying patients.

“I see the toll it takes. I see good people, I see people we do not want to lose, that are just at the end of their tether — they are burnt out,” he said. 

Since De Maayer started working at Rahima Moosa, worsening overcrowding, infrastructural problems and supplier issues have transformed the hospital from a place he would be comfortable taking his child to, to one he would avoid. 

His dream is to make it a centre of academic excellence once more, “where people would choose to bring their children because that’s where they’re gonna get the best [care]”. DM/MC

 

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 3

  • Cadre deployment kills! The mealy- mouthed response from the top brass sounds suspiciously like excuses. Heads must roll.

  • Just remember to thank the ANC for this, and realize that shpuld the NHI in ots current form be implemented this state of affairs will everywhere with no alternatives available. Except of course our politicians jetting off to Russia to have their medical needs met there…

  • I would suggest DM should do an in depth study of the public hospitals in the country. I suspect you may find that the WC public hospitals are still relatively functional. Probably it has to do with the DA and reasonable governance and even that blonde lady DM and others tend to deal with very unfairly. I admit a vested interest. I have this month retired from Tygerberg Hospital after 41 years service as a pathologist and probably like many of your DM insiders vote for the DA.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted