Of the 28 441 babies born at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital (CMJH) in the last three years, 803 have died.
This was revealed by Gauteng health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa in a written reply to a Gauteng legislature question from the DA. Ramokgopa disclosed that 304 deaths occurred in 2014, 238 in 2015 and 261 in 2016.
According to DA’s shadow MEC of health, Jack Bloom, this amounts to 2.8% of all births, which is a higher percentage than the 2% of births at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital over the same time period, with 1 338 deaths out of 61 503 births.
Ramokgopa’s response shows that 33% of the deaths related to premature birth; 13% to hypoxia (deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues); 15% to sepsis (inflammation); 13% to congenital-related (physical abnormality) and 27% of the deaths were attributed to other factors.
The provincial department of health is currently besieged by a number of operational deficiencies as well as budgetary constraints, with Premier David Makhura having recently delegated a special executive council chaired by the MEC of finance Barbara Creecy to devise a turnaround strategy for the department.
“I am concerned about the high percentage of deaths from other causes, which has climbed from 10% of deaths in 2014 to 27% in 2016. Such a large number of deaths needs to be broken down more precisely.
“Ramokgopa says that there was no negligence in any of the deaths, but I think more evidence is needed to back this up. There were eight babies born with brain damage from 2014 to 2016, mostly because of congenital deformities,” Bloom said.
According to Ramokgopa’s written response, there are no shortages of equipment in the neonatal and maternity wards, and an additional Criticool Unit (a machine to keep the newborn’s temperatures stable) has been prioritised for purchase in the next financial year.
She, however, conceded there are three vacant specialist posts and one medical officer vacancy, which are expected to be filled shortly. The DA is concerned about this status quo as “CMJH only deals with complicated births and many of the deaths are likely to have been unavoidable”.
Responding to The Citizen’s query on a progress report regarding the intervention implemented by Makhura, his spokesperson, Phumla Sekhonyane, wrote that the executive council appointed a committee mandated with developing “a financial rescue plan for the department of health”.
“The terms of reference of the cabinet committee are broadly to assist the department of health to stabilise its financial position. The committee has identified the following key cost drivers in the department: financial management; human resources management; health operations management; medico-legal claims; corporate governance.
“The committee will identify areas where costs can be minimised and improve efficiency and will present recommendations to the next meeting of the executive council in October 2017. Where additional funding is required the matter will be referred to the premier’s budget committee for consideration,” Sekhonyane added.