One month ago today, a one-hour-old baby born to Akiem Balgobin and Phoulmattie Ramjattan at the Georgetown Public Hospital, fell, reportedly off of a cot, at the hospital while under the care of a nurse or nurses in the hospital’s Maternity Unit. As a result of that fall, the hospital had said in a press release, the baby sustained a fractured skull and bleeding in the brain and underwent four-hour brain surgery a few days later, from which, according to Minister of Public Health Dr George Norton, he is expected to make a full recovery.
At the time of speaking on the craniotomy which removed the blood clots that had developed as a result of the fall, Dr Norton had told this newspaper that an investigation was underway, which had so far found that several persons might have been culpable and one nurse had already been sent on administrative leave. The minister had said then that he would be willing to call in the police once those culpable had been identified, and that a report on the investigation would be ready “soon” and it would be given to the child’s parents.
Soon was not soon enough for the parents who this week filed a lawsuit, and rightfully so, against the hospital seeking $20 million in damages. While it will be up to the court to decide on the award of damages, this lawsuit should serve as a wake-up call to nurses and doctors at the Georgetown Hospital as well as their managers and by extension the Public Health Ministry.
There have been way too many cases of unexplained and unexplainable deaths of babies, mothers and children in the public health facilities in this country. There have been too many instances where investigations into these deaths dragged on for extended periods with no result/report being made available at the end. Or, when the reports are released, no one was held culpable, or disciplined; no one was fired – at least not publicly. So that there was never any sense of justice being afforded to the grieving families who had lost loved ones.
A case in point is the death of four-year-old Jaden Mars, one week shy of two years ago. Jaden had been taken to the hospital after he fell and bit his tongue while playing. There it had been determined that sutures were necessary and surgery was scheduled. The otherwise healthy little boy never recovered from that surgery and it had been reported then that he had been given too heavy a dose of anaesthetic. Today, Jaden’s mother Nathalie Caseley is still protesting the lack of justice afforded her for the loss of her son.
What the Georgetown Hospital and its managers seem bent on shoving down the throats of Guyanese is that its staff members are perfect people who do everything right and that every time a mother or child dies while under their care, there is a medical reason for that death and it was unavoidable. What everyone knows is that there is a lot—too much in fact—that is wrong with the public health sector in general and the Georgetown Hospital in particular, and that this has been an ongoing issue for decades.
Apart from the piss-poor physical facilities in most sections of the GPH, the attitudes of many of the staff in general—from the doctors down to the attendants and security guards—are the epitome of a poor work ethic. A visit, especially to the high traffic areas of the hospital on any given day, reveals patients waiting interminably for service and being attended to in a less than empathetic manner; though on the other hand many patients have lauded the care and attention they have received at certain clinics in the hospital. There is a perception, which needs to be erased, that those in the medical profession look down on those they are there to serve.
In 2009, in a candid interview with this newspaper, then health minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy had lamented that there was a lack of experienced doctors and this was having a negative impact on the health care system. He said this was compounded by the fact the experienced doctors failed to “show up” when called out to attend to serious cases. He did say too that there were instances where the consultants were not called.
He had pointed out too that clinical audits had shown that nurses were neglectful in their duties. He pointed to the simple matter of monitoring the blood pressure of admitted pregnant women; the audits revealed that this was ignored 18% of the time, perhaps more. While the example he gave was in the hospital’s Maternity Unit, this egregious lack of quality care in nursing was not limited to just that section of the hospital.
In the five years since, despite a promise made by the then cabinet secretary Dr Roger Luncheon in 2010 that the health ministry would publish the results of the audits of the quality of service delivered in the public healthcare system, there has been no sign of this.
In addition, in April this year, during the run-up to general elections, Attorney Timothy Jonas, in a letter published in this newspaper, asked several pertinent questions of both the then government and the opposition, none of which has been answered to date. Among the questions asked of the then government was whether it was satisfied with the quality of medical care offered in Guyana and the quality and efficiency of the hospital/clinic administration within which that care is offered. The then opposition was asked what new ideas it would bring to the table to improve the shortcomings it felt existed in the medical field; whether it perceived that there have been failures and how it planned to alleviate same. Their collective silence has been deafening.
Perhaps this lawsuit will prove to be the ice water bath that is needed.