‘Cut cars and planes – let’s look after kids’

PROMINENT advocate and social justice activist Paul Hoffman, who in December requested the public protector to order a cut in “lavish and unnecessary expenditure of public funds” in favour of the provision of adequate intensive care unit facilities for infants, has confirmed the matter was being investigated.

Director of the Institute for Justice and Accountability, Hoffman – who believes that public interest litigation might be appropriate in this case – said on Friday he had lodged his complaint last year but so far the public protector’s office had not issued an interim report.

“Health departments should be held at a higher standard when it comes to the care taken when looking after babies,” said Hoffman, who is also outspoken about government corruption.

Hoffman, a senior counsel who runs the institute and has led several public interest lawsuits, filed the complaint about under-equipped neonatal and paediatric intensive care units (ICUs).

He also sent a forensic auditor’s report that children were not given “paramount” treatment in budgets and spending in the Health Department.

When asking the public protector to prune lavish expenditure in favour of adequateICU facilities for infants, he identified items that could be cut.

“Funding simply has to be found to address the issue. A simple way to do so would be to insist that plans to buy a R2-billion aircraft for the Presidency should be kept shelved until the doctors report that adequate ICU facilities are in place in all of our state hospitals.

“If this does not free up an adequate budget, then consideration can be given to pruning wasteful defence and vanity expenditure, such as fancy cars for cabinet ministers and bloated salaries for political office-bearers.”

In his complaint to the public protector’s office, he said the state was obliged to respect and protect all of the rights guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights.

“No one may be refused emergency medical treatment. A small child at death’s door in need of life-saving treatment in an ICU is surely an emergency.

“Furthermore … every child has the right to basic healthcare services. This surely encompasses the provision of sufficient and equitable paediatric ICU facilities.”

He said doctors should never be in a position where they were forced to choose who to help and who to let go.

In a subsequent legal opinion for the office of the public protector, Hoffman said: “Critically ill infants are assigned to beds in general hospital wards in which there are insufficient nurses, equipment and medication. In effect, the treatment available is simply inadequate … attending doctors are required to make life and death decisions: which infants to assign to ICUs and which to the wards.

“Those assigned to general wards are in effect often given a death sentence; all so assigned have a significantly reduced chance of surviving the medical emergency in which they find themselves.

“That ICU facilities are not accountably, efficiently, effectively and economically operated appears to be clear, based on the information available in the public domain.”