HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsGone are the days when hospitals were a place for recovery

Gone are the days when hospitals were a place for recovery


I was in hospital for nearly a week where I witnessed the most unscrupulous medical practice which has to be exposed before many other patients fall victim.

This happened at a clinic in the Avenues area where a woman, who I shared a cubicle with, was being given aspirin and painkillers for an undisclosed illness.

The woman, who apparently is a pharmacist with an international organisation, kept asking the nurses why she was in hospital because she was not sick.
“The doctor did not even bother to tell me what was happening to me. A drip was inserted on one of my hands, a matter that astonished me.

“The tests that were conducted — including blood tests, X-rays and an ECG report that checks the condition of the heart — revealed that there was nothing wrong with me.

”How can you admit a patient you do not even talk to, only to be given painkillers? I want an explanation from the hospital authorities because this is dereliction of duty. I came to hospital on Friday and now it’s Sunday. All I am being given are painkillers, but for what ailment?”

A complaint has since been lodged with the clinic. The woman’s partner, who also is in the medical field, has vowed not to pay the clinic and the doctor in question.

It would seem as though these so-called affluent clinics which are dotted around the city have unfortunately not lived up to expectations.

Avenues Clinic is one example of a medical institution that has courted so much controversy over the past few years. The clinic hit the headlines nearly 15 years ago when it failed to lay off a Dr Richard Gladwell McGown, also known as Dr Death, for malpractice. Police allege that McGown conducted medical tests using new drugs and anaesthetics without the authority of the Zimbabwe Drugs Control Council.

A parliamentary committee probing health services claimed up to six of McGown’s patients died as a result.

McGown apparently gave lethal doses of morphine to black patients

There was overwhelming evidence to prosecute this doctor, but the clinic failed to take action. He continued roaming along the corridors of the then prestigious clinic until he decided to go back to his country of origin Britain.

But British lawmakers claimed he carried out medical experiments on 500 patients, most of them black. Most of the patients were killed.
One legislator likened his test on black women and children to the Nazi’s experiments on Jews and Poles in concentration camps.

But the question is: Why did Avenues Clinic not take action, exposing patients to Dr Death?
A judge ruled that McGown gave unusually high dosages of morphine when administering anaesthetic to five patients who died between 1986 and 1992 in Zimbabwe.

In fact, nurses who worked with McGown raised alarm, but no one really took the matter seriously. But in 1993, a parliamentary report alleged that McGown had carried out clinical trials to discover new ways of monitoring pain without following laid-down procedures.

Nurses were the first to raise the alarm to the local Press, but nothing could be done at that time because most of his cases were just taken as sudden deaths.

There is a standard of practice that all doctors abide with, but McGown was left loose and killed so many black patients because he was not accountable to anyone. This matter reminded me of yet another case that involved an orthopaedic surgeon and a student doctor who tried siphoning our hard-earned cash so that my uncle could go into theatre for a hip bone replacement.

My uncle’s daughter Yvonne actually brought an envelope containing trillions of Zim dollars (equivalent to $300 that time) and when I asked what the money was for, she said the doctor had demanded that payment.

I was so infuriated and lodged a complaint with the hospital which resulted in a hearing at Harare Central Hospital which was headed by a Dr Chiwara.

I told the hearing that there was no need for such a meeting because I had never heard about a doctor that was struck off the doctors register for negligence and abuse. The Law Society of Zimbabwe has on record lawyers that have been deregistered for unlawful practice.

So what is the role of the Medical Council that monitors and regulates doctors operations?
A Government doctor told me in confidence that nothing would be done to the offending doctors because Zimbabwe was experiencing a serious shortage of medical doctors.

True to her words, the doctor, who is no doubt a very experienced surgeon who does his operations with great precision, is still in medical practice. I remember talking to one patient at Harare Central Hospital who had stayed in hospital for nearly one year because he did not have money to speed up the operation.The medical profession has unfortunately become a cash cow for some of these doctors, a situation that has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

Zimbabwe needs to establish a medical court where patients can lodge such complaints. In fact, majority of these patients are ignorant about what is being done to their bodies.

And how often have we heard about patients that have died following minor surgery, like highly publicised Tinashe Hungwe, the then nine-year-old boy who underwent surgery for a minor nasal condition and immediately became a cabbage?
Gone are the days when hospitals were a place for recovery because some deaths are preventable if health officials followed laid-down procedures.

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