A senior doctor at Mahikeng Provincial Hospital is under investigation for advice he allegedly gave a junior doctor.

A senior doctor at Mahikeng Provincial Hospital is under investigation for advice he allegedly gave a junior doctor.

  • The Health Professions Council of SA is probing the head of a unit at Mahikeng Provincial Hospital.
  • The probe centres around advice he allegedly gave a junior doctor to wrap ice cubes around a newborn baby's head to reduce her temperature.
  • The North West health department said it was not aware of the incident, but would look into it.

Just days after Mahikeng Provincial Hospital officials admitted putting newborn babies in boxes amid an incubator shortage, it has emerged that a senior doctor is under investigation for advice he allegedly gave a junior doctor.

The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is looking into the allegations against the doctor, who heads a unit at the hospital, after it received an anonymous complaint a few months ago.

News24 has seen the complaint.

In it, it is alleged that the unit head advised a junior paediatrician in at Gelukspan District Hospital in January to wrap two ice cubes in plastic and put it around the head of a newborn baby to reduce her temperature. 

"The baby suffered from respiratory distress and required oxygen; her blood sugar after delivery was 19.6, with tachycardia (a fast heart rate) and tachypnoea (rapid breathing) reported. The patient required advanced care and monitoring, which are not adequately performed at district-level hospitals," the complaint stated.

According to the complainant, the baby's condition was unchanged the following day. She seemed to be having convulsions, and anti-epileptic medication and fluid bolus (fluid infusion) were administered.

"The medical officer spoke to the head of [the unit] at Mahikeng Provincial Hospital, who advised the officer to proceed with cooling therapy by wrapping two ice cubes with plastic and placing it around the baby's head. The medical officer did as instructed after fetching the ice cubes from her fridge at her home," the complainant alleged.

But the baby's clinical condition remained the same, it was alleged.

Later in the evening, the medical officer recorded that the baby's temperature was 39.3 to 39.2 degrees Celsius.

"The baby had apnoeic attacks (temporary cessation of breathing)."

Since the baby's condition was not improving, the junior paediatrician informed another senior medical officer at Mahikeng Provincial Hospital and mentioned the ice-cube therapy.

READ | Mahikeng hospital gets 18 incubators after newborns found to have been placed in cardboard boxes

According to the complaint, that medical officer then told the Gelukspan doctor to remove the ice cubes immediately, change the fluid therapy, and repeat blood investigations.

The following day it was established that the baby's temperature had started to settle and her condition continued to be managed at the district hospital.

In the complaint to the  HPCSA, concern about the unit head's clinical capabilities had been expressed previously.

The complainant stated:

... most of the decisions did not reflect the clinical capabilities of a senior specialist with years of clinical experience. This is of more concern, given that he also practises as an independent specialist at the private hospital.

The complainant added: "I question the quality of teaching and supervision he provides at the hospital, given the kinds of clinical decisions made by the head of the unit and a very senior medical specialist."

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HPCSA spokesperson Christopher Tsatsawane said the complaint had been received and that the council was investigating the matter.

North West health department spokesperson Keletso Ratlhagane said the department was unaware of the incident.

"We are investigating the incident at this stage," she added.

The hospital was in the spotlight recently after a Facebook post revealed that newborns were kept in brown cardboard boxes, while wrapped in purple hospital blankets, with nasogastric tubes.

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