TIGI decries information blackout on probe into transfer of whistleblower nurse

Local anti-corruption watchdog Transparency Institute Guyana Incorporated (TIGI) yesterday crticised both the Guyana Nursing Council and the Guyana Medical Council for their unwillingness to provide information on the current status of investigations of the conduct of nurse Sherilyn Marks, who was transferred last year after complaining about the alleged abuse of office by a Region Five (Mahaica/Berbice) Coun-cillor to access prescription medication.

Marks was transferred from the Fort Wellington Hospital in April last year after her complaint against then APNU+AFC councillor Carol Joseph was made public. Joseph subsequently resigned amidst the publication of several reports on the complaints.

TIGI, in a statement issued yesterday, noted that in June of the same year, it added its voice to the many that were raised in opposition to the act of transferring Marks. The Guyana Public Service Union, it said, is on record with TIGI as indicating that it stands with Marks in asserting that she was not in breach of any rules. The union asserts that Marks acted professionally and also indicated that it held discussions with various entities on her behalf but has been unable to secure a reversal of the actions taken against her.

Since that time, TIGI noted, the government tabled a Protected Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) bill, which was passed unanimously in the National Assembly. “How-ever, laws will not be effective when there is a lack of will to make them work and the fact that Ms. Marks’s situation has not been rectified is ominous of the kind of dissonance in the political class that can render whistleblower legislation inconsequential if it does become law,” it said.

The group further noted that there were promises of investigations to determine whether Marks had breached any rules of the public service. “The Guyana Nursing Council, the Guyana Medial Council and the Ministry of Public Health, were to conduct investigations. These investigations would have uncovered whether Ms. Marks was in breach of the public service rules, whether doctors were complicit and whether the actions against her were inappropriate,” it explained.

Having become aware of the promises of investigations, TIGI said it wrote to both the Guyana Nursing Council (delivered on November 20, 2017) and the Medical Council (initially delivered on December 21, 2017) to find out about the status of the investigations, including if Marks was found guilty or cleared of breaching any rules or codes of ethics.

According to the group, the Guyana Nursing Council responded last December and indicated that it is not in a position to provide an update. “This response failed to even indicate whether or not investigations were initiated. We find this to be appalling. Even if the council does not wish to divulge details of the investigation, there is nothing preventing it from indicating whether or not there was an investigation and whether or not it was completed. There is a difference between confidentiality and secrecy,” TIGI lamented.

Meanwhile, TIGI said that a January 10th, 2018 phone call from TIGI to the Guyana Medical Council revealed that its letter was misplaced. It added that it then sent an electronic copy on January 10th and receipt was acknowledged the following day. “We followed-up by email on February 8, 2018 (no response) and again on February 28, 2018 and a response was received on February 28, 2018 indicating that the matter was still engaging the attention of the Council. To date (now May 26, 2018) we have not received a response to the content of the letter from the Guyana Medical Council,” it noted.

As a result, TIGI charged that the failure of both the Guyana Nursing Council and the Guyana Medical Council to take action in this matter, or, at the very least, to respond to its legitimate questions on behalf of the Guyanese public, smacked of a cover-up. “Leading health care professionals should surely be anxious to provide appropriate treatment for the Councillor, and to support Nurse Marks for having followed correct procedures in an admittedly difficult situation. Indeed, we at TIGI believe that Nurse Sherilyn Marks should be given a national award in recognition of her courage especially in context of the lack of protection for whistleblowers in Guyana,” it added.

Stabroek News had reported on Marks’ complaint on April 19th of last year. The next day, she was summoned by the Region Five Regional Executive Officer Ovid Morrison, who she said complained about her going to the press and how her letter of complaint had not been sent to him. She later that day received her letter of transfer.

“Approval is hereby given for you to be transferred from Fort Wellington Hospital to the Bath/Experiment Health Centre with effect from 20th April 2017…,” the letter to Marks stated. She said that she had never asked for a transfer.

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