Namibia: Health Ministry Probes Hospital Negligence

The health ministry is investigating a case of a patient who fell off his hospital bed and died after his cry for help allegedly went unanswered at a hospital in Kavango East region.

The family of Muyunda Atovo (45) believe his death could have been prevented had the nurses at the Andara Catholic Hospital responded to his call for assistance on 29 December 2019 at around 04h00.

The family was allegedly informed by another patient who witnessed Atovo crying for help, that no hospital staff was on hand to assist him.

He then fell off the bed and died. Atovo was admitted at the Kavango East hospital's TB ward on 24 December.

Health executive director Ben Nangombe yesterday said he was aware of the case but said he was still studying the incident report.

Atovo's cousin Mushambe Makushe told The Namibian last week that there were no nurses deployed at the ward the night Atovo died.

Makushe said when the family arrived at the morgue the following day, they realised that something had gone "awfully wrong".

"The deceased had injuries on the face, especially on the mouth and forehead. He had wounds and blood and his eyes were open," he said.

Makushe said they were shown pictures of the scene taken by the patient who shared a room with the deceased on the day of the incident.

The graphic pictures, seen by The Namibian, show a severely injured Atovo lying on the floor next to his bed, with blood foaming at his mouth.

The late Atovo reportedly needed assistance to the toilet so he decided to walk, as his roommates were allegedly not in a condition to help him.

"He hit himself against the wall and fell. When he stood up, he fell again, this time hitting his forehead on the floor and biting his tongue," said Makushe.

Makushe said when Atovo's hospital roommate realised that he had fallen from the bed, he ran to find a nurse. However, he only came across a man who works in the morgue.

Makushe said they approached the hospital matron later that day to enquire on Atovo's cause of death. Makushe said the matron informed them that there was a shortage of nurses, because most of them were on leave. The family was allegedly informed that no nurses were deployed at the TB ward that particular night as it was assumed the patients were in a stable condition.

"How could you assume that someone admitted is stable enough not to have a nurse in sight? Patients are admitted because they are not medically fit to go home. They need fulltime care.

"We [family] see this as negligence. If a nurse had been there, we could have been talking about a different story today," he said.

The autopsy report, seen by The Namibian, reveals that Atovo's cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest (a sudden loss of blood flow resulting from the failure of the heart to pump blood effectively).

A sceptical Makushe said he is battling to come to terms with his cousin's death.

"I am afraid for another one of my relatives to be admitted into the same hospital. It is just not a secure environment," he said.

Makushe said Atovo's brother tried to register a case of negligence against the hospital at a police station, but was unsuccessful as they were informed it was too late since the deceased was already buried.

In a letter issued to the Namibia Health Professions Council, Makushe asked for the matter to be investigated and action to be taken against those who failed to execute their duty.

The 22 January letter also asked the hospital management to apologise to the aggrieved.

A staff member at the hospital, who was on duty that night, anonymously confirmed to The Namibian that there was no nurse deployed at the TB ward as the nurse on duty was working at casualty.

"The supervisor tasks a nurse to cover two or three wards, which is not an easy task," he said.

He added that on the night Atovo died, the staff at the TB ward only arrived at around 07h00.

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