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Union accuses minister of downplaying baby deaths

A report was released yesterday on the situation at the hospital

About 2 000 babies have reportedly died in the Frere hospital's notorious maternity section

July 23, 2007, 17:00

The furore over the death of babies at East London's Frere Hospital rages on. The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) has now entered the fray, accusing Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the health minister, of protecting her provincial counterpart.

About 2 000 babies have reportedly died in the Frere hospital's notorious maternity section in the past 15 years. The health minister released a report yesterday, saying that none of the deaths were because of chronic staff shortages or equipment problems.

This flies in the face of an extensive investigation by an Eastern Cape newspaper, and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, the deputy health minister, reportedly calling the maternity section a national emergency. Nomsa Jajula, the health MEC, also had to explain the deaths and the general state of health services to the provincial ANC.

The report found that a shortage of medical staff was not to blame for the deaths. Yet it called for urgent staff recruitment. Equipment shortages and faulty equipment were not to blame either. But the report recommended that the maintenance budget should be increased by a massive 1 000%. It also recommended that another labour ward be added, six faulty incubators be replaced and additional ones bought, and for other modern equipment to be installed.

Urgent improvement of measures
The report did not say whether any deaths had been caused by poor infection control measures. Yet, it called for these measures to be urgently improved.

Meanwhile, the minister and premier expressed confidence in the health MEC. Today Cosatu accused them of closing ranks around the MEC. "It is very unfortunate that the report tabled by the minister of health is contradictory, in terms of not being able to publish the causes of death of the infants in this hospital," says Xola Phakathi, Cosatu's provincial secretary.

The Democratic Alliance said the report raised more questions than answers and that it would submit questions to Tshabalala-Msimang in Parliament to clarify her deputy's comments about Frere's maternity section.

Click here to send this article to a friend     Click here for a printable version of this article     Phaphama Mfenyane, the provincial government spokesperson, on the issue     Video report on hospital report    
RELATED STORIES
SA government slams Frere baby deaths report (July 22, 2007, 19:00)
Results on infants' death report out tomorrow (July 21, 2007, 09:45)
Reports on infant deaths at hospital to be probed (July 13, 2007, 07:15)
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