oa Southern African Journal of Anaesthesia and Analgesia - Obstetric anaesthesia at district and regional hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal : human resources, caseloads and the experience of doctors : original research
Objectives: Suboptimal treatment as a result of lack of basic skills in anaesthesia and resuscitation contributes significantly to the continuing increase in anaesthetic-related maternal deaths in South Africa. This study aimed to determine the number of doctors providing obstetric anaesthesia at district and regional hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal, their level of experience and caseload, and to identify specific groups that could be targeted for support and training.
Design: This was a prospective open cohort observational study of obstetric anaesthetic services in KwaZulu-Natal, which considered the human resources, caseloads and the experience of doctors.
Setting and subjects: Two separate questionnaires, directed independently to medical managers and doctors providing operative obstetric services, were sent to 48 district and regional hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal. One third of the hospitals, selected by stratified randomisation, were visited to improve response rates.
Outcome measures: Medical managers were asked for caseload and staffing data. Doctors were asked for details of their qualifications, experience and their current workload.
Results: Thirty-eight (a 79% response rate) medical managers and 266 doctors (an estimated response rate of 65%) completed questionnaires. Community service medical officers (CSMOs) at rural district hospitals constituted 27% of fulltime staff. CSMOs at all responding district hospitals were expected to provide obstetric anaesthesia independently. Foreign medical graduates provided obstetric anaesthesia in 71% (27/38) of hospitals and constituted 27% of full-time staff at rural district hospitals. Twenty-four doctors (all foreign-trained) reported no anaesthesia training during their internship. District hospitals were more reliant on part-time (sessional) appointments. Fifty-eight per cent of all (22/38) hospitals reported that a number of sessional appointments provided obstetric anaesthesia. In October 2010, 58% (22/38 active during the month) of sessional appointments at district-level hospitals administered only one obstetric anaesthetic, whereas all 15 sessional appointments who were active at regional level administered two or more. Only 24% of responding doctors had more than five years' experience in their current employment. Only 3% of responding doctors working in rural hospitals had a Diploma in Anaesthesia, compared to 26% in urban hospitals. Only one doctor with more than five years of employment history and a Diploma in Anaesthesia worked at district level.
Conclusion: This study highlights the lack of training and experience of doctors in obstetric anaesthesia and documents workload patterns at district hospitals. It also identifies specific target groups for future support and training.
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