/ 28 September 2007

Frere Hospital whistle-blower fired

The medical superintendent of Cecilia Makiwane Hospital, who spoke out about the recent spate of baby deaths there, has been fired, the Eastern Cape health department said on Friday.

”She received a letter this morning stating that she was dismissed. She was found guilty on all charges brought against her at the disciplinary hearing,” said spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo.

The department found Dr Nokuzola Ntshona guilty on three charges of speaking out against its handling of the Frere Hospital maternity saga.

Two months ago, the Daily Dispatch newspaper reported about high numbers of babies said to be dying from avoidable causes at the institution. Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and President Thabo Mbeki dismissed the reports.

Ntshona was suspended last month when she wrote two letters, one of which was addressed to Director General in the Presidency Frank Chikane, highlighting problems at the hospital.

Details of both letters were published in the Dispatch and even though she refused to comment on them, the department saw this as a transgression.

Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane is part of the complex that includes Frere Hospital.

The Eastern Cape government in August rejected a claim by Ntshona that 200 babies were dying every month at East London’s two largest hospitals.

She made the claim in an interview published in the Mail & Guardian, saying that babies had been dying at the rate of 200 a month in Cecilia Makiwane and Frere hospitals for the past 14 years and that nothing had been done about it. She said doctors at the hospitals were too scared to raise the issue.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) lashed out at the department for firing Ntshona. ”Dr Ntshona’s crime was, apparently, to speak to the media about the appalling situation at Frere hospital.”

The DA’s Mike Waters added: ”Dr Ntshona … had shown no evidence of having failed to do her job. The key candidate for dismissal should be East London Hospital Complex CEO Luvuyo Mosana, notorious for his role in trying to cover up the initial reports of baby deaths.” — Sapa