Durban – Medical experts and health workers were outraged after learning that patients’ stillborn babies were allegedly left at the foot of their beds at Wentworth Hospital recently, in contravention of the Human Tissues Act.
Theresa Anderson, 55, said she was left traumatised two weeks ago after an already unpleasant visit to the hospital’s labour ward. She was visiting her daughter, Carrie Wilson, 32, who lost her baby after a road rage incident.
During afternoon and evening visiting hours, Anderson noticed red buckets at the foot of the beds of two women who had given birth to stillborn babies.
“I asked them (nurses) what was in the buckets. They said to me ‘In those buckets are babies’,” Anderson said.
She was horrified. She asked: “Can you leave a dead foetus at the end of the patient’s bed? And for so many hours?”
She said her daughter was discharged quickly, which she believed was because she had questioned the nurses and taken photographs of the buckets.
“This is not acceptable. These people have gone through the trauma of delivering dead babies and now you want them to go through the trauma of looking at these buckets for over five hours,” she said.
Medical law consultant Dr Shafrudeen Amod said the alleged practice contravened health legislation and good ethical practice.
“From a legal and ethical perspective, it is in contravention of the Human Tissue Act, and charges and complaints should be lodged with the relevant statutory bodies,” Amod said.
He said health-care practitioners had not shown compassion and should be held accountable. He said the mothers were at the added risk of severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“The Department of Health should answer to this and they need to provide the mothers with immediate psychological interventions,” he said.
Claire Brauer, a mother of eight who is training to become a doula, said she was horrified that mothers had been left with their stillborn babies placed in buckets.
“Post-traumatic stress is going to stay with those moms and others who witness it. There is a lack of compassion and empathy and basic decency.”
Brauer said losing a child was a painful experience and a mother should be surrounded by love and compassion.
“The last memory she has of that baby will be the most disturbing one. She should be able to hold her baby and say goodbye and the remains of her baby should be handled with respect and dignity. This is a basic human right. Her chances of experiencing post-partum depression after an experience like this are greatly increased,” she said.
A state nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the buckets as those used to store human tissue such as amputated limbs and stillborns.
“It doesn’t stay with the patients. It has a proper area. It should be taken to the mortuary because it could smell, unless it is in formalin (a preservative) if it is going to the lab to be tested.”
DA spokesperson on health Dr Rishigen Viranna said it was a “disgraceful” situation and called for an investigation.
“It is a complete violation of their dignity and the emotional damage is severe. Every patient deserves support and dignity,” Viranna said.
He added that the Human Tissue Act was clear regarding how human tissue should be handled, and he agreed with Amod that the storage of stillborn babies in buckets at the foot of the bed was in contravention of the act.
Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA provincial secretary Mandla Shabangu said shop stewards were unaware of the incident.
KZN Health Department spokesperson Noluthando Nkosi said hospital management had no knowledge of the allegations until they were raised by the Daily News. However, she said the allegations were concerning and the department was “looking into” the incident.
“All health-care workers are trained in, and have a responsibility to follow, standard operating procedures at all times for the disposal of medical waste. This ensures that this process unfolds in a quick, respectful and dignified manner, and with minimum trauma or discomfort to the mother and/or any other health-care users, and is done in keeping with established infection prevention and control protocols,” Nkosi said.
She urged the public to immediately report any instances of the improper disposal of medical waste to hospital management.