North West Health, unions decide to drop blame game after babies in cardboard boxes drama
Two employees at the Mahikeng Hospital have been placed on precautionary suspension.
The North West Department of Health says progress is being made regarding the investigation into why babies were placed in cardboard boxes instead of incubators.
Images of newborn babies in boxes at the Mahikeng Provincial Hospital circulated on social media last week, sparking backlash against the provincial Health Department.
The hospital had experienced a high number of births with infants needing to be taken to the neonatal intensive care unit, which is said to be short of 20 incubators and cribs.
More than 55 babies were born on the day and were looked after by only seven nurses, according to the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa).
Denosa criticised the provincial department on Monday, saying the matter did not need to be investigated because it was “a daily reality faced by healthcare workers in hospitals and clinics due to the shortage of equipment and resources”.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) had also slammed the department for using workers as “sacrificial lambs” for its own failures.
New cribs, incubators
Following the incident, North West Health MEC Madoda Sambatha has since met with Denosa as well as the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu).
According to the department, it was acknowledged during the meeting that the challenges that contributed to the current situation at the hospital was “systemic and structural”.
“The MEC has already highlighted [the issue of limited space in the hospital] in the budget speech, even stating that the hospital will be expanded with additional 100 beds, was acknowledged as a contributing factor and suggestions on other solutions were provided.
“As part of further increasing space in the facility the hospital management already started engaging the provincial infrastructure to procure a park home, which will provide enough space for the neonatal unit.
“The MEC emphasised that such a move should not mean delay on additional 100 beds,” North West Health spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane said on Tuesday.
Lekgethwane said additional cribs and incubators were already procured as the hospital had anticipated the need to address the challenge of space for new born babies.
He confirmed that two employees, including the neonatal section nursing manager, at the hospital have been placed on precautionary suspension.
“The meeting emphasised the need to find solutions and to stop pointing fingers at individuals. In that spirit, both the union leaders and the MEC agreed that the suspension of the employees directly involved was not meant as a punitive measure, but a precautionary suspension,” Lekgethwane added.
Sambatha, meanwhile, stressed that the suspended employees cannot be found guilty without due process being followed.
“I have been consistent in saying that the suspension was precautionary. A precautionary suspension is often given were the employer thinks that the employees may interfere with the investigation because of them being directly implicated, but no one can say they are guilty when the investigation is still ongoing,” the MEC said.
The meeting further resolved that the hospital’s management should draw up an improvement plan, which was underway.