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Minister says system’s issues no excuse for medical negligence (Updated)

Public health care (CM archives)

The state doctors’ union Pasyki on Sunday questioned why two medics were targeted for punishment for the death of a boy aged 10 on Friday due to alleged negligence while no on was pointing the finger at the health ministry for its failings within the system.

Stavros Giorgallis, 10, died from a skull fracture, pathologist Marios Matsakis said on Saturday, following a post-mortem examination on the boy. Earlier, Larnaca district court remanded two doctors for five days, following the boy’s death on Friday.

The two men, 37 and 65, are a doctor from the emergency department of Larnaca general hospital and the department’s director. The 10-year-old was taken there after sustaining a head injury during a basketball game at school but was soon discharged.

His grief-stricken mother, whom reports said had worked as a nurse in the past, accused doctors at Larnaca hospital of not taking proper care of the child and sending him home after about 25 minutes.

The doctors conducted an X-ray on the boy’s head and after determining that it revealed no signs of trauma, he was sent home only to be later admitted to Larnaca hospital and then referred to Nicosia hospital where he died on the operating table..

The union, in a statement, said medical negligence where it exists needs to be punished but the doctor or doctor involved must not be victims of mob rule and trial by media.

“It is not the time for the establishment of popular courts,” it said.

“The medical world, knowing that every action involves the risk of death, cannot accept the brutal intimidation and criminalisation that is being attempted today.”

Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou later expressed regret over the “inaccurate connection” which the union made between the tragic death of the 10-year-old and the health services

“I absolutely agree that it is not the time to set up popular courts. The investigation is taking its course and we should all let justice be done impartially,” he said in response to Pasyki.

“No one denies there are problems in the public health sector,” he said, adding that the process of implementing Gesy [the new health system] has already been launched. But until we have tangible results particularly from hospital autonomy, I will not accept using these arguments as an excuse for possible medical errors,” he added.

The union wondered whether doctors in the private and public sector should look at patients under police supervision or whether there should be a police station outside every hospital and clinic in Cyprus.

At the same time, it questions the extent to which doctors’ responsibility was due to “the downfall of hospitals, cost-cutting, lack of infrastructure and training, and the collapse of public health” and said doctors have repeatedly warned publicly of the huge risk that lives would be lost.

“Medical ethics are non-negotiable in terms of the doctors’ commitment,” the union said.

It added that medical malpractice and medical error were problems that needed to be tackled and “where medical malpractice and medical error are documented in court, then liability should be attributed to the guilty person,” Pasyki said.

The union said that around 90 per cent of medical errors can be attributed to failings in the system and the remaining 10 per cent are down to medical and paramedic staff. “Are there any responsibilities for the ministry of health or is there only a scapegoat,” it added.

The minister also said that pending tangible results of hospital autonomy, the government had taken a number of measures, among them, that the budget of the ministry of health was at its highest level since 2012, while the number of doctors in public hospitals had increased by 50.

He also said that the agreement on wages upgrades for doctors and other public health professionals had been implemented, while allowances were granted, among other things, to doctors working in A&E as a measure to motivate and increase productivity.

Ioannou said he had ordered a probe into the boy’s death immediately “since, from the information I had, without prejudging any outcome, the data at first glance showed it could be possible negligence and/or the inability of the services involved to diagnose and deal with the incident properly”.

He said the findings were immediately submitted to the police, as the authority responsible for investigating the incident, and it was the police that had found it necessary to issue arrest warrants, he added.

Pasyki  had a dig at police saying it wished they would show “the same devotion when it comes to other investigations that concern real criminals”.

“It is not the time for the establishment of popular courts and we urge the authorities to make sure all of the proper procedures are followed and where responsibilities are to be attributed,” the union said, urging that the investigation also encompasses the health system itself.

“This tragedy brings home the crime against society, the culling of hospitals, the flight of dozens of excellent and capable doctors to the private sector and the collapse and dissolution of public health,” the union said.

“We demand from all those who gave cover to the ministry of health when we warned of hospital burnout and the collapse of hospitals, to accept their part of the responsibility.”

It concluded by expressing “deep sorrow and condolences to the family” of the boy due to a “collapsing system”.

However the Pancyprian Association of Patient and Friends on Sunday expressed its “intense disappointment, anger and shock for the possible negligence and inadequacy that allowed the unjust loss of a ten-year-old child”.

“Unfortunately, the complaints and findings that organised patients have repeatedly disclosed have not been enough to awaken and sensitise health care workers, resulting in yet another tragic confirmation of what we have been saying,” the association said.

The association called for an objective investigation, the attribution of responsibilities and exemplary punishment for those who have shown negligence.

“There should be no attempt to cover up the responsibilities of anyone with the excuses of understaffing, workload, or any other justification in this and many other similar cases,” a statement said.

“There is no excuse… and the state continues to show tolerance of this kind of irresponsibility,” it said, adding that at the same time it was not fair to paint all healthcare workers with the same brush as many perform their duties with conscientiousness and professionalism.

“The state must ensure that public hospitals receive the necessary high quality services to serve their patients. Health is not a personal but a national issue and healthcare workers must have the resources they need,” it concluded.

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