South African hospitals – state and private – perform much higher rates of Caesarean-section births than is recommended internationally. This may be putting mothers at unnecessary risk of complications and death.
However, that’s only one area of concern. Another is that hospitals are often responsible for failure to perform Caesarean sections in time.
This can result in avoidable injuries in infants, such as brain damage. Depending on the circumstances, it may constitute medical malpractice.
South African examples of delayed Caesarean sections
There are many cases in South Africa when courts have found in favour of the mother whose baby suffered brain damage as a result of a delayed C-section.
C-section delays cause severe brain damage to baby
A 15-year-old first-time mother successfully sued the Eastern Cape Department of Health for medical malpractice after her son was born with cerebral palsy. At the age of four, he was unable to walk, talk or do anything for himself.
The court agreed with medical experts testifying on their behalf that the brain damage could have been avoided if the mother and baby had received timeous monitoring, medical attention and an earlier C-section.
Endless delays – an ambulance to take her to Butterworth Hospital, an examination by a nurse, being examined by a doctor only in the evening after the day she was admitted – were responsible for the brain damage.
Mother receives R1.5 million from ‘indebted’ doctor
Edith Nombulelo sued a private hospital and obstetrician for R23 million in damages to cover the costs of caring for her son, who was born with severe brain damage and needs round-the-clock care, following the failure to perform an emergency C-section.
The doctor’s late arrival and a locked theatre were among a series of unnecessary delays that led to Nombulelo giving birth naturally despite the doctor saying she needed a C-section because her baby was in distress.
The case against the hospital is on-going, but the doctor admitted he is “indebted” to the mother and agreed to settled for R1.5 million.
Mother and quadriplegic son awarded R9,631,520
A woman sued the Gauteng Department of Health after her son suffered brain damage during a traumatic labour that left him a cerebral quadriplegic with a life expectancy of only 12.5 years.
The woman and her son were awarded R9,631,520 by the Pretoria High Court for future loss of earnings, general damages and future medical expenses.
The medical staff, especially the nurses, at Tshwane District Hospital were found to be negligent in their level of skill, care and diligence. The court accepted that the failure to follow medical protocol, to monitor the labour properly and to perform a C-section caused the brain damage to the infant.
Factors contributing to delays and failures to perform C-sections
It’s essential for the safety of a birthing mother and her infant that a C-section is performed timeously. Many factors contribute to delays and the failure to perform C-sections, including:
- lengthy transport delays
- long waiting periods in hospitals
- staff shortages
- lack of trained medical personnel
- resource shortages
- inadequate facilities
- locked theatres
- labouring mothers unattended for long periods
- insufficient or no foetal monitoring
- failure to respond to signs of foetal distress
- delays in doctor’s arrival
- mistakes in medical judgement.
Delayed Caesarean section and cerebral palsy
Failure to perform timely C-sections may result in brain damage, including cerebral palsy, in babies. This is disturbingly common in South African state hospitals.
Eight in 100 South African children suffer from cerebral palsy, a largely preventable disorder of the brain. As many as half of these children have cerebral palsy because of avoidable birth complications.
Infant asphyxia (oxygen deprivation) and detectable infection, such as HIV-linked tubercular meningitis, are the most common causes of cerebral palsy in infants. Oxygen deprivation can occur during an abnormally long or difficult labour.
When failure to perform a C-section constitutes medical malpractice
The failure to perform a C-section constitutes medical malpractice when the standard of care falls outside accepted medical standards. This could be the failure to perform a C-section on time or the failure to perform a C-section when clear indicators show it’s essential.
A C-section is the indicated procedure in several circumstances:
- pre-natal conditions such as pre-eclampsia, placenta previa and placental abruption
- foetal distress putting the baby at risk of oxygen deprivation (asphyxia)
- the umbilical cord is compressing the foetus
- mother has unusually high or low blood pressure
- vaginal delivery is difficult due to baby’s position or large size
- mother’s failure to dilate
- prolonged and difficult labour.
Making a medical malpractice claim
A medical malpractice claim can be made against a Department of Health in the case of government hospitals, against private hospitals and, depending on the circumstances, against individual healthcare practitioners.
Medical malpractice claims are extremely complex. They’re subject to legal principles and procedures that differ from other areas of law. Nearly always, expert medical testimony is required to support the claim.
If you’re the victim of medical malpractice, it’s essential to consult an attorney who has experience in this field of law and can help you win the compensation you deserve.
At DSC Attorneys, we have extensive experience of medical malpractice claims in South Africa, including medical malpractice claims arising from failure to perform a Caesarean section in time.
What we offer at DSC Attorneys
At DSC Attorneys, we specialise in personal injury claims and our medico-legal team has extensive experience in handling medical malpractice claims.
We can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. We work on a no win, no fee basis.
Contact us at DSC Attorneys for the very best legal support and representation.