State hospital patients ‘should not expect lower level of care’

DAMAGE CLAIM: Nicolene Helmey lost the use of two fingers. Picture: FREDLIN ADRIAAN

Estelle Ellis

AN attempt by the Eastern Cape Department of Health to convince the Port Elizabeth High Court patients at a state hospital should expect a lower standard of care was dismissed yesterday, with the judge saying there was no evidence of staff or equipment shortages to back up this excuse.

Judge Judith Roberson was giving judgment in the damages lawsuit brought by Nicolene Helmey, 44, of Bloemendal after she lost the use of two fingers following treatment at the Livingstone Hospital for injuries to her hand.

Helmey sued the Department of Health for R690000 and Roberson ruled it was responsible for 100% of the damages suffered by her.

On the morning of May 23 2009, Helmey fell while she had a cup of tea in her hand. She sustained a deep cut to her hand.

The doctor stitched up her hand but failed to test for tendon damage. Helmey had to go back to the clinic several times after her wound became septic and eventually had to have an operation to repair a tendon.

She had by then suffered irreparable harm to her hand.

Helmey was represented by Advocates Pieter Mouton and Nicola Barnard, instructed by attorney Francois Swanepoel.

“In my view, the attempt by the Department of Health to suggest that some lesser standard of care can be expected at a provincial hospital is not supported by the evidence.

“While I accept that the casualty unit at Livingstone Hospital is busy over weekends, in the present case there was no evidence of a lack of staff or equipment.”

Roberson said the nurses and doctors knew that tests for tendon damage were required and did not suggest that there was no time to perform such tests at weekends.

She said the doctor’s note in Helmey’s file did not mention that he had checked for movement, sensation and circulation.

Roberson said the conditions at the hospital could not be used as an excuse.

“The conditions were no excuse for not assessing the wound for tendon damage and I am of the view that Helmey’s treatment was below the reasonable standard of skill and care required,” she said.

There will be a later court hearing to establish the amount of damages Helmey will receive.

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