Maternal injuries and medical malpractice in South Africa

maternal injuries
25 Apr 2023

Maternal injuries remain alarmingly high in South African hospitals and, all too often, these injuries are a direct result of negligence or malpractice.

Mothers who are injured due to medical malpractice during labour and childbirth may be entitled to compensation if their injuries were preventable through proper care and treatment.

In this article, we look at:

  • how common maternal injuries due to malpractice are
  • the rate of maternal deaths in South Africa
  • what constitutes medical malpractice
  • maternal injuries that can be caused by malpractice
  • claiming compensation for maternal injuries

How common is medical malpractice in South Africa’s maternity wards?

Not all maternal injuries or deaths can be attributed to malpractice, but the percentage of mothers who receive substandard care is still unacceptably high.

The findings in a report covering 2017 to 2019 said that 80% of mothers-to-be who died during childbirth received substandard care at district hospitals.

The Foundation for Professional Development estimates that 40% of maternal deaths in South Africa are related to community, administrative and clinical failures, making these deaths avoidable.

Birth injuries are also very common in South African hospitals. Globally, the prevalence of cerebral palsy is two per 1,000 births. In South Africa, that number is as high as 10 per 1,000 births.

Speaking about medico-legal claims in the 2018/2019 financial year, the Clinton Health Access Initiative said, “50% of all claims are cerebral palsy-type claims (birth asphyxia, neonatal encephalopathy, cerebral palsy), making up more than 60% of the liabilities in six out of the nine provinces.”

Unacceptably high maternal deaths in South Africa

Maternal deaths in South African hospitals decreased by 29% between 2009 and 2016, but the death rate still remains unacceptably high. Globally, the majority of maternal deaths are considered preventable.

South Africa’s maternal death rate is one of the lowest in Africa at 113 deaths for every 100,000 births. This is still substantially higher than the UK, where the figure is seven deaths per 100,000 births.

A sharp rise in Caesarean sections can also contribute to higher risk factors during childbirth. A 2015/2016 District Health Barometer report found that 26% of babies born in South Africa’s government hospitals were delivered via C-section. This percentage was about 13% in 2001.

An article in the South African Medical Journal found that up to 71% of maternal deaths due to C-sections were preventable.

What constitutes medical malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional fails to provide appropriate or necessary treatment, fails to take appropriate action or gives substandard care that leads to harm, injury or death.

Malpractice can happen during treatment, diagnosis, administration of medications, aftercare or even due to administrative errors. In cases of malpractice, the doctors, nurses, administrative staff, the hospital and even the government can potentially be held liable.

Types of maternal injuries that may be caused by malpractice

Improper medical care can lead to a variety of maternal injuries that can lead to long-term suffering and even death. These common maternal injuries may be caused by malpractice:

  • vaginal tears
  • fissures
  • uterine rupture or prolapse
  • failure to manage eclampsia or preeclampsia
  • incorrect stitching during C-section or episiotomy
  • coccyx fracture or dislocation
  • infections
  • nerve injuries

It’s worth noting that these types of injuries can also happen even when every reasonable measure is taken by medical staff.

Maternal injury claims for compensation

If you suffered a maternal injury during labour, childbirth or aftercare, it may be possible to claim compensation. If a loved one died during labour or due to negligence during prenatal or neonatal care, her next of kin or dependants may also claim compensation.

For a successful maternal injury claim, you will need to prove that malpractice or negligence took place that led to the injury. These claims can be against the medical staff, the hospital or the Health Department.

DSC Attorneys has extensive experience in medical malpractice cases, including claims for maternal injuries. Its medicolegal team helps you gather the necessary evidence, such as medical records, to support your case.

Contact them on 0861 465 879 to arrange a free first consultation and see if your claim has merit. They work on a no-win, no-fee basis.

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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