Blame game at Kenyatta National Hospital over patient rape saga

By DANN OKOTH

The rape saga at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) has exposed security flaws at the facility, which employees and patients warn pose a danger to them.

This emerged as hospital officials and independent sources continued to give conflicting information as to what actually transpired on the night on June 7.

The Standard On Saturday has established that the male nurse accused of the sexual attack is walking free after police released him on a free bond. We also gained exclusive access to the 28-year-old woman at the centre of the saga and witnessed first-hand the state of affairs at her hospital bed.

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 Sneaked into ward

“You wouldn’t want to see her,” warned a senior nurse, who sneaked us into the ward, disguising us as visiting nursing students. The patient got 60 per cent burns while cooking at home and is weakened by pain medication.

A salve applied to her burns adds to their gruesome look. Her body is riddled with intravenous lines and a catheter inserted to allow her to pass urine. The thought of a sexual attack on such a helpless figure beggars belief.

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The alleged rape has put the largest referral hospital in East and Central Africa on the spot — for all the wrong reasons. Questions are being raised over glaring flaws such as insufficient staffing at night and haphazard security that might make wards unsafe. In particular, there are fears patients who are rendered unconscious by medication or illness are unprotected.

   Last week saw a clinical officer in Kisii accused of raping a patient released due to lack of evidence. This raises questions about the scale of the problem nationwide and whether medical staff would cover them up to avoid scandal.

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KNH has grappled with crippling lack of medical staff — a fact that has led to many patients waiting for hours to get treatment especially at the emergency unit. Many die while waiting to be seen. It has also struggled to treat critical and terminal illnesses against a biting lack of specialised equipment, space and specialists, while many of its best professionals seek work elsewhere.

An inside source claimed security personnel at KNH are insufficient to take care of the large facility and usually deal with external threats. “After dark, most guards retreat to their cocoons to rest for the night,” says the source. “There is little or no supervision from their seniors.”

The source also reveals that lighting in the hospital is not ideal. Sometimes the lights fail and it takes days or even weeks for technicians to fix them. “What you end up with is a labyrinth of dark corridors and dark rooms,” he said. “This sometimes happens even in the children’s wards.”

Patients at the hospital expressed shock and disbelief.

Teenager admitted

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“I have been to this hospital over many years but I have never heard of such an incident,” says a patient who identified herself only as Nyokabi, “this one came as a shock.”

Nyokabi, who has a teenager admitted at the hospital, says she will now insist on staying with her daughter at the hospital.

“I’m not saying the hospital is full of bad people, but it is good to take precautions,” she says.

George Odero is more concerned about undignified treatment.

“I had a relative who is in a vegetative state due to a neurological disease at KNH,” he says. “She depended on the staff for everything, including while relieving herself, but they would abandon her in her own faeces for days.”

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The conduct of the nurse who received the first complaint suggests there is a larger problem at the hospital. KNH managers say the female nurse who took over from the suspect nurse was informed of the rape. But they say she washed the patient before being told and kept quiet “at the patient’s request”.

This is contradicted by the fact that the patient later revealed the incident to her mother who in turn informed the hospital. Independent sources we spoke to reveal that it was a counselling nurse, not the mother, who broke the news to the hospital -- five days after the incident. We learnt from hospital sources that the same counselling nurse, not the primary care nurse that washed the patient, is now under suspension for keeping the matter quiet.

“It is unthinkable for any of our members to conceal such an incident, however close they are to the culprit,” says Jophinus Musundi Chairman Kenya National Union of Nurses. “Maybe the hospital knows something we don’t know and they are not telling us.”

Musundi adds that security lapses are experienced in many health facilities.

“We are all vulnerable to security failures,” he says. “Patients are twice as vulnerable due to their physical condition. It is the responsibility of the Government and the institutions to protect the patients. Although the alleged rape has neither been proved or disproved, the fact we are talking about a rape at a big hospital like KNH is scary enough.”

It also emerged the suspect male nurse was not alone on duty that night.

There were other patients in the ward. The burns unit has a partition with about four beds. The beds are laid out open plan but partitioned with a curtain from the next ward. 

Personal friend

“(The suspect) is a personal friend and I spoke with him sometime during the shift,” says Obuya Obengo, head of Medical Chapter at the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and allied Workers (Kudhehia) and a nurse at KNH.

“He told me he and a colleague were about to insert a central venous line or catheter (a procedure you perform if you cannot ordinarily access the patients veins). It beats me how he could have raped the patient in the presence of a colleague and other patients.”

He, however, adds: “Raping a patient is a serious offense in this profession and one will be dismissed immediately. But to keep such an incident quiet is unthinkable even if the patient requested it.

 That a colleague was asked by a patient to keep it quiet and they obliged just doesn’t add up for me.”

Dr Simeon Monda, KNH Deputy Director for Clinical Services, refused to be drawn into the debate over the incident or safety at the hospital.

“This matter is under investigations by the authorities. KNH is not an investigation authority and for that reason I cannot say more, he said.

When asked to arrange for an interview with the affected nurses the patient and her relatives, Monda claimed all were under treatment for trauma.

“This event was very traumatising for all those involved,” Monda said. “They are all undergoing treatment and cannot speak to the media.”

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