Hoffmann v. Member of Executive Council, Easter Cape

Case no: 1037/2007
Download Judgment: English

The plaintiff alleged medical negligence on behalf of the Dora Nginza Hospital (hereinafter referred to as “the hospital”. The plaintiff states that she was referred to the hospital as her blood sugar and blood pressure was high during pregnancy. She had also informed the hospital that she had had previous C-Section deliveries. She was also given insulin injections to be injected twice daily. She stated that she wanted to give birth by way of Caesarean. She further stated that when she was connected to a machine and explained that if the graph fell below the normal level, that would mean that the baby was struggling to get oxygen. She alleged that many a times the graph fell below the normal level and when she enquired how long she would have to wait- she was told that the theatres were full and that the attending doctor did not come within a reasonably expected time and came after an hour. The doctor informed her that they would have to conduct an emergency C-Section as the baby was undergoing fetal distress.

The Court held the defendant liable for negligence and ordered payment of damages and costs. The Court stated that the plaintiff’s evidence was uncontested by the defendant. Her previous diabetic history, previous C-section operations should have been known by the hospital and therefore she should have been given immediate care and attention. It was evident from the CTG reports that there were complications in the state of the mother and child and the sister who attended to the plaintiff did not appear to have applied her mind.

The hospital has employed professional nurses and qualified doctors who have to deal with the patients who come to hospital for delivery of babies and other illnesses. Both nurses and doctors in their own right possess or at least should reasonably be expected to possess proficiency or expertise in regard to their areas of proficiency and/or expertise.” (Para 65)

Thus in the case of an expert such as a surgeon or gynaecologist, the test for negligence in regard to the exercise of the expert’s area of activity is the test of the so called reasonable surgeon, reasonable gynaecologist etcetera and the negligence of an expert is sometimes referred to as professional negligence7. This applies equally to professional nurses whose conduct is also judged according to their rank and experience. A nurse who has progressed to the rank of a sister, in certain circumstances, will be judged according to the reasonableness of a nursing sister and not that of a student nurse.” (Para 66)

“In this case the nursing sister who attended to the plaintiff does not appear to me to have applied her mind to what the plaintiff told her relating to her previous caesarean birth. If she did she would never have told the plaintiff to wait until she is ripe for giving birth. Given her rank and, therefore, her experience, she was reasonably expected to have checked the history of the plaintiff’s illness as contained in their records. Her records would appear from her file because she had been to the same hospital a few months before she came on the 11th September 2004.” (Para 68)