Public Protector urged to investigate death of man at Bara, and plight of a man declared dead by Home Affairs five years ago

Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela was on Wednesday asked to investigate the death of a Gauteng man following an operation that allegedly went wrong earlier this year at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

During a National Stakeholder Dialogue meeting with the community of Orange Farm, Isabela Vilakazi alleged that following her brother’s death, the doctor who treated him falsely recorded the cause of death as “natural”. This has caused a life insurance policy not to pay her brother’s child the due benefits, she alleged.

Vilakazi told the Public Protector that his brother was left with a gaping hole in his stomach after a power outage occurred halfway through an operation. Her brother was admitted in January following a severe stomach ache.

She alleged that her brother was removed from the theatre during the power outage and transferred back to a ward, where he spent a few days while the wound was open, eventually becoming septic. He ultimately died, allegedly from the infected wound.

“I have asked the doctor that treated my brother to rectify the cause of death on his death certificate and he dismissed me even when I explained to him how this matter was affecting our livelihood. On one occasion he said to me ‘they are too busy’,” said Vilakazi.

Shocked, the Public Protector said she would ask hospital management and health authorities in the province to investigate whether the man had died as a result of the fatal operation and whether the cause of death had been captured correctly.

“The entire hall is quiet because we are all shocked at your complaint. We empathize with you. However, we cannot prejudge the case. We will have to get a report from the hospital to find out what happened and take it from there,” the Public Protector said.

Community members filled the local multipurpose hall, complaining about a range of service and conduct failure matters such as delays in the provision of RDP houses and the allocation of defective houses.

One man asked the Public Protector to help him get his life back. He claimed that he the Department of Home Affairs registered him as deceased in the government records five years ago and as a result, he has been unable to access critical services.

Another complaint against the department involved a woman who said she had an undocumented grown-up child because officials in Gauteng denied her services, saying she should go back to her home province of Mpumalanga for help. She told the Public Protector that she was unemployed and could not afford to travel to Mpumalanga.

Others complained about police services, operating hours of the local healthcare clinic, lack of funding for NGOs that specialized in helping substance abuse victims, and alleged misappropriation of funds earmarked for HIV/Aids programmes by a local NGO.

The Public Protector assured the community that all the issues raised would be followed up with the competent organs of state, with her office taking up the complex ones for investigation.

She was encouraged that the state organs that participated in the meeting addressed the concerns and undertook to address all the issues raised. These include RDP matters, Home Affairs issues and the complaints against the police.

Earlier, during a meeting with the provincial legislature, the Public Protector expressed willingness to investigate the alleged conduct of rogue doctors who cheat the state by charging for hours they spent at their private practices.

This came after Member of the Provincial Legislature and Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Health, Ms Molebatsi Bopape, raised concerns about the doctors, saying they were stealing from unsuspecting taxpayers.

“We’d like to receive every piece of information about the state of health in the country. We’d be happy to receive that matter,” the Public Protector said, in response to Ms Bopape.

The Public Protector and her deputy, Adv. Kevin Malunga, were at the legislature to report back to the oversight body their observations following surprise visits to Leratong and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Kagiso and Soweto respectively. They also shared the complaints they received from communities following meetings in Krugersdorp and Johannesburg.

Their reports prompted the Speaker of the Legislature, Ms Lindiwe Maseko, to remark that it appeared some within the health profession were “doing it for the wrong reasons and not to serve” and that “the Florence Nightingale culture is not there anymore.”

The Public Protector would, at the end of the dialogue, issue a factual report based on her observations. The report, to be titled “voices and Views”, would not be an investigation report. An investigation one would come later following the completion of a systemic probe into the issues raised.

She was encouraged by and grateful to the legislature for having taken measures to address some health-related issues and committing to partnering with her office.

The dialogue, which is coupled with a public hearing, focuses on strengthening government's ability to deliver on Millennium Development Goals, with a particular emphasis on improving healthcare services and eradicating poverty.

It moves to KwaZulu-Natal next week. Details will follow shortly.

For more information, contact:

Kgalalelo Masibi
Public Protector South Africa
012 366 7006
079 507 0399
0800 11 20 40

Published Date: 
Thursday, August 8, 2013