No compassionate person could fail to be moved by this week’s news story about Jan Faber, 66, who was allegedly turned away from six hospitals while seeking treatment for a heart attack – and subsequently died. “The time we spent looking for a hospital could’ve made the difference between life and death,” his wife San was quoted as saying. The reason for his inability to find a hospital place was apparently to do with a lack of properly qualified specialists to assist.
It’s a scenario we’re unfortunately all too familiar with in South Africa. Earlier this year news reports described how Noluvuyo Kobocwana was turned away from a hospital while in labour, and ended up having her baby within sight of the hospital entry.
Does it make a difference that Faber was turned away from private hospitals and Kobocwana from a state hospital? Surely we, the patients, should be made to feel nurtured and welcomed at any hospital we approach in an emergency?
The hospitals no doubt felt they had good reasons in both cases, but for a patient, these administrative reasons are cold comfort.
We tend to feel that it’s a sign of social decay in our country, and try to find someone to blame for this lack of care. But this happens elsewhere too. In a recent case in the United Kingdom, a woman with rabies was turned away twice by a hospital before finally being admitted elsewhere.
Another British woman was turned away by two hospitals while in labour because the maternity units were full, and ended up having her baby on her sofa unexpectedly.
In all these cases it would seem obvious to the ordinary person that admitting the patient, even to the emergency ward, would be preferable to sending them away. We need to work towards an ethos of healthcare that starts with providing a safe haven for people who need help in an emergency.
Before we lose ourselves in despair, though, we should not forget the amazing work that does get done in our hospitals. There’s hope to be taken from story of Pippie Kruger, the 3-year-old burn victim who has received incredible care and the chance to live a normal life. A large amount of money had to be spent on importing cloned skin for a skin graft for the little girl. But according to a report, this technology would be available in South Africa, if not for a lack of funding.
We have amazing skill, wonderful medical personnel, and people who really care. It seems what is missing is an environment that allows them the absolute freedom to practice their professions to the best of their ability without being pushed to a mental breaking point by stress and overwork. It’s been proven that they can stand with the best in the world. Let’s do everything we can to make it happen.
(Adele Hamilton, Health24, July 2012)