Maternity ward mayhem: Expectant mums using makeshift beds at Frere

Distrust in clinics combined with unfettered teenage pregnancies and skills shortage in midwifery, has resulted in expecting mothers at Frere Hospital lying on makeshift beds on the floor in the labour and delivery ward this past month.

When the GO!&Express team visited the ward on May 17, there were up to 12 mothers lying on couches and on benches for up to a week waiting for an available bed with some being told by nurses to return home and wait for the signs of active labour before coming back, as constrained resources meant that limited beds were being prioritised for mothers in active labour.

One mother said: “We have been sleeping on the floor and on couches for days and they are saying the beds are full and we really can’t stay like this anymore, we need help.

“The nurses are struggling and also patients because we are sleeping on the floor with our swollen feet and big tummies.”

EC department of health spokesperson Mkhululi Ndamase said pregnant patients place strain on Frere when they bypass their local clinic and district hospital, which results in an influx of expecting mothers forcing nurses to resort to alternative measures to accommodate them.

Ndamase said: “All patients are given the highest level of care and treatment with the available resources that we have.

“Pregnant women are driven by loved ones directly to Frere Hospital although there are four district hospitals in the East London area and community health centres that also deliver babies. This results to Frere Hospital receiving more patients than the number of approved beds.

“The floor beds used in the maternity ward are used to provide extra capacity due to excessive check-ins at maternity.

“We urge people to go to their nearest district hospital or community health centre for deliveries so that only those that require specialist care will be referred to Frere Hospital.

“Nurses assess all patients and in consultation with the doctors those that are not requiring specialist care are down referred to lower levels of care including Cecilia Makiwane Hospital and the surrounding primary healthcare facilities.

“It must be mentioned the root cause of high maternity volumes is high teenage pregnancy.

“We encourage people to use condoms to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The department also promotes the use of age-appropriate contraceptives as a preventative measures.”

Ndamase stressed that all expectant mothers are encouraged to start antenatal care in early stages of their pregnancy to detect and treat any potential complications so that they are picked up early and the relevant interventions are taken.

Former head of neonatal medicine at the University of Cape Town and director of Perinatal Education Trust, Professor David Woods concurs with Ndamase but stresses that patients have no faith in their local clinics.

Woods believes that mothers lying on makeshift beds on the floor is not necessarily an indication of bad quality healthcare, but it does imply that the ward is overcrowded, which compromises nurses’ and doctors’ ability to maintain quality patient care.

Woods said: “Pregnancy is not a disease and mothers do not need to be at the hospital unless there is a problem.”

Neobies Childbirth Services registered nurse and private practice midwife Hannelie Roodt said that the makeshift beds were not ideal and lead to a pregnancy experience characterised by fear however nurses must be commended for planning where resources and space is limited.

She said: “The Frere nurses are providing a safe environment even if its not ideal because its stressful for staff to work with the influx of women coming in when there no place and this large load results in bad service and exhausted nurses.

“We need to invest in training more mid-wives and integrating birth doula’s into the hospitals to mitigate the strain on the nurses. The uptake of mid-wives in East London is much less than other parts of the country.”

MAKING A PLAN: Expecting mothers lying on couches and pillows on the floor and on benches in the labour and delivery ward due to a combination of factors this month. Pictures: SUPPLIED


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