Parents accuse Mwaiwathu of medical negligence for child’s death

Parents to the late seven-year-old Etienne Nkwanda have bitterly complained against alleged clinical negligence by Malawi’s largest private hospital, Mwaiwathu Hospital medical personnel in Blantyre that they suspect must have led to the death of the young boy.

In a letter dated August 24, 2011, addressed to the hospital and copied to Malawi Blood Transfusion, Medical Council of Malawi, Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi, the University of Malawi Registrar, Peter and Agnes Nkwanda squarely put the blame on the Mwaiwathu hospital for the death of their son.

“We, Peter and Agnes Nkwanda, hereby lodge a formal complaint with your hospital concerning the way your staff handled the case of our son, Etienne Nkwanda, from the time he was admitted into the hospital on Wednesday 3rd August 2011 around 1600 Hours until the time he passed away on Friday 5th August 2011 after 2100 Hours.

“Although it is not our place to say, but only God’s, we believe that if the hospital had acted differently and expeditiously, our son stood a much better chance of surviving. We feel it was not beyond the hospital’s ability to save his life, or at least we would have accepted our loss more easily if all hospital agents involved had demonstrably tried their very best to save him,” write the parents, adding the have no reason to doubt the good intentions of hospital staff but that they are firmly grounded in their conviction that this is a clear case of negligence and carelessness by the hospital.

Malawi's largest private hospital, Mwaiwathu Hospital

The parents observe that some hospitals lose patients because they lack drugs and equipment and that it is disheartening to witness loss of life due to staff negligence when they have almost everything at their disposal.

“On our part, we blame ourselves for not making the bold decision to seek help elsewhere while there was still time. We feel we made an error in judgment by putting too much confidence in a system that was clearly not working and it cost us dearly. This is what makes this loss so hard to bear.

“Our son Etienne was such a lively, intelligent, happy, giving, peace-loving child, and while nothing we can do now will bring him back, we want his death to be a source of service to others by bringing awareness to avoidable medical errors. We wish to call for process improvements in some sectors of your hospital that we feel failed us,” the Nkwandas write.

According to the parents, Etienne was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at Mwaiwathu about a year after he was born and he was almost always treated there.

“This makes his case a familiar one to most staff at the hospital. Professor Mbvundula would tell the nursing staff in our presence that issues concerning sickle cell patients had to be treated with utmost urgency as they could lead into complications. It was, therefore, surprising that there was such a casual approach to a case that the staff knew had to be handled with urgency,” reads the letter in part.

Among other complaints contained in the letter include that it took “a supposedly reputable hospital, a day and a half (not an hour and a half) to run a simple Full Blood Count (FBC) and produce results.

“To us, and we believe to anybody else in our shoes, that is unacceptable. If this had been better handled, the patient would have been able to receive blood well before it was too late,” reads the letter.

They also complain that they were told blood would be available after about an hour from the time a request was submitted but instead it took about three hours mainly due to poor logistical arrangements.

“All this was happening while our son lay in torturous agony being denied blood that he desperately needed, and yet we had offered several times to use our transport for the collection of the blood or relieving the driver of his/her other non-medical chores. Again, we find this unacceptable,” reads the letters, adding that there was little or no follow-up to tasks that had not been completed such as when the laboratory technician failed to draw a blood sample, there was no follow-up to ensure the sample is drawn within the shortest reasonable time possible.

“Again, when the sample drawn from the finger clotted, what was the reasoning behind simply abandoning the task and going around other business? We find this deplorable,” complain the parents.

Under “Sequence of Events”, the parents also question how handover instructions and intra and inter-departmental communication are handled at the hospital, finding it “strange” that important information was seemingly not relayed to relevant personnel for further action.

“In our layman’s opinion, the patient’s condition was critical enough from around 1900 Hours to warrant being moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) so that his vital signs could be closely monitored and he would have access to life support facilities but we wondered why this was not done. However, we are not aware of the hospital’s policy or criteria for a patient to qualify for the ICU,” they complain.

The parents conclude that they “will anxiously await your response on this grave matter as we consider our options”.

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