Doctors fingered in opioid prescription abuse complaint give statements to medical council

Statements have been taken from the three doctors attached to the Fort Wellington Hospital and the Medical Council of Guyana (MCG) is awaiting additional documents it requested as it continues its investigation into allegations of opioid prescription abuse levelled against the trio.

“The matter is still under investigation… We have received some documents and are awaiting some others,” Juanita Johnson of the MCG told Stabroek News on Thursday, when contacted.

Current head of the MCG, Dr Navin Rambarran is currently out of the country and referred this newspaper to Johnson.

Neither Dr Rambarran nor Johnson could give a timeframe for the completion of the investigation, which began last month. It is looking into the roles the three doctors played in the matter where former Region Five Councillor Carol Joseph was accused of abusing her authority to access large amounts of prescription pain medication.

A formal complaint was made by PPP/C Member of Parliament Harry Gill against Dr Steven Cheefoon, Dr Ivelaw Sinclair and Dr Adrian Van Nooten, who are all attached to the Fort Wellington Public Hospital, West Coast Berbice. Dr Cheefoon is also the Regional Health Officer of Region Five.

Meanwhile, another member of the MCG told this newspaper that letters were written to the doctors named in the complaint, and they have since replied.

The source said the MCG will also need copies of the Fort Wellington Hospital’s log book for prescription narcotics to see “the frequency of how the drugs were prescribed and administered.”

Thus far, neither the Ministry of Public Health nor the Ministry of Communities has launched any investigation into this matter.

Joseph resigned from the Region Five Regional Democratic Council on April 21 this year, two days after Stabroek News published a report on her alleged abuse of medication. The matter had been drawn to the public’s notice by Gill after Nurse Sherlyn Marks reported to him that her complaints to senior medical officials about the Joseph case had been ignored.

Marks was abruptly transferred by Region Five Regional Executive Officer Ovid Morrison after the news item on Joseph’s case appeared in this newspaper. Morrison’s transfer of the nurse has been condemned and there have been calls for it to be rescinded.

The Ministry of Public Health subsequently said that Marks had breached public service rules and that it had sent her to the Department of Public Service for action.

Gill pointed out in his complaint to the MCG that Nurse Marks had written to then Minister of Public Health Dr George Norton on the matter on December 13, 2016. In that letter, Marks had she was being harassed and intimidated by Joseph because of the complaint she had lodged with Dr Chefoon about the medication. Marks also sent her letter to a number of other regional and health officials who did nothing about it.

Gill noted that the Medical Practitioners (Code of Conduct and Standards of Practice) Regulations 2008 – Responsibilities to Patients, Regulation 7- paragraph (5) states: “A medical practitioner shall not expose his patients to risks which may arise from a compromise of their own health status (eg dependence on alcohol or other drugs, HIV infection, hepatitis and the like).” In addition, Regulation 36- paragraph (11) reads: “The Medical Council may regard the prescription or supply of drugs of dependence otherwise than in the course of bona fide treatment as a serious professional misconduct.”

Gill urged that the MCG conduct the investigation, in keeping with its own Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, to protect the integrity of the medical profession.

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