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Baby deaths: 90 babies crammed into 44-bed neonatal unit at Tembisa Hospital

Several measures have been put in place to prevent a similar outbreak

A stakeholders meeting, attended by the Hospital Services Directorate, a Tshwane District Microbiology team and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) on January 6 approved several steps to prevent further baby deaths at Tembisa Hospital.

This follows the deaths of 10 babies caused by a carbapenem-resistant enterobacterales (CRE) outbreak at the hospital’s neonatal unit between November 1 and December 31. Seventeen cases were reported during the outbreak.

Klebsiella pneumoniae was identified as the suspected organism responsible for the outbreak. CRE are a family of germs that are difficult to treat because they have high levels of resistance to antibiotics. It causes deadly infections in your bloodstream, lungs and urinary tract, including pneumonia and meningitis.

Discussed at the meeting were overcrowding, staff shortages, infrastructure problems, inappropriate equipment storage and difficulties in isolating infected infants.

The department said the following measures had been taken to prevent further infections in the neonatal unit:

• A quality improvement plan has been created and implemented with immediate effect.

• Additional professional nurses have been deployed to assist in the neonatal unit.

• Approval to divert new admissions to Kalafong Hospital and Steve Biko Academic Hospital has in principle been granted.

• That an external infection prevention and control audit to be conducted on a date to be provided by the Provincial Quality Assurance Directorate.

• National Health Laboratory Services Infection Control to provide technical support assistance to audit Gauteng Department of Health Neonatal Units.

• NICD to allocate resources to develop a dashboard to monitor laboratory confirmed neonatal infections at facility level.

In a statement the health statement confirmed that Tembisa Hospital, like many other health facilities in the province, were facing challenges of an ever increasing demand for services, adding that the 44-bed neonatal unit often admitted close to 90 patients.

“While the department is looking at improving the hospital infrastructure, it is doing its best to serve patients with respect and dignity. The department remains committed to improving patients’ experience of care and the delivery of quality healthcare services.”

DA Gauteng MPL and Gauteng shadow health MEC Jack Bloom on Monday said six deaths from the same condition occurred at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus in 2018, and that about those deaths, there had been no proper accountability by the department.

“Gauteng hospitals are facing the challenge of overcrowding and poor hygiene, a major problem in neonatal units.

“This hospital (Tembisa Hospital) is notoriously overcrowded, and the 44-bed neonatal unit often admits more than double the number of babies. We need to know why the public were not informed earlier, and what accountability there will be for these deaths.

“How many more babies will die before effective measures are taken at all hospitals? It is no use waking up after the babies have already died. The department needs to ensure that all neonatal units have enough staff and beds, with strict hygiene to prevent more klebsiella deaths.”

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