The situation in public hospitals cannot be used as an excuse for medical mistakes, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou charged on Monday, as state doctors’ union Pasyki announced a two-hour strike to protest the arrest of two healthcare professionals over the death of a 10-year-old boy.
The doctors were suspended pending a police investigation.
An initial probe into the circumstances surrounding the death of the boy in Larnaca on Friday said it appeared to be a case of medical negligence or that the health services were unable to properly diagnose the patient.
Ioannou ordered the administrative probe as soon as he was informed of the tragedy and his ministry’s permanent health secretary went to the scene to ensure no evidence could be tampered with, he told the state broadcaster.
Stavros Giorgallis fell over while playing basketball in school suffering a fractured skull, that went unnoticed when he was taken to the emergency department of Larnaca hospital.
Instead, on-duty doctors ordered an X-ray but no CT scan. The X-ray was not viewed by a radiologist and the boy was discharged after doctors saw no signs of trauma.
The boy’s condition deteriorated and he was brought back to the hospital a couple of hours later and rushed to Nicosia general hospital.
He died on the operating table from internal bleeding.
A doctor, 37, and the emergency department director in Larnaca hospital, 65, were remanded for five days on Saturday.
Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris said on Monday clinical psychologists were offering support to students at the boy’s school while a separate inquiry on how the matter was handled at the school is set to be completed by Wednesday.
The investigation examines whether the school had implemented a protocol, which calls for first aid to be provided immediately, call an ambulance if the case is serious, contact the child’s guardian and inform superiors.
Giorgallis’ funeral will take place on Tuesday with expenses covered by the state. Flags in all public schools will fly at half-mast.
The state doctors’ reaction to the incident and its aftermath was to call a two-hour strike for Wednesday, blaming the death on the sorry state of public hospitals.
In a statement, the union called on members to strike on May 16 from 10am to 12pm over the “unprecedented castigation of medical workers”.
The union said the health ministry was trying to wash its hands of any blame for the poor conditions in state hospitals. They said they weren’t trying to cause problems for patients but to create conditions in public hospitals that would allow people to receive the level of care the state owed them.
“We’ve said it before and we say it now: we are not going to grieve any more victims and be blamed because nothing is being done to modernise and reorganise state hospitals,” the union said.
“We are ready to take up any possible responsibilities but in no case will we accept assuming responsibility for criminal negligence.”
Pasyki said authorities were trying to shift the blame, adding that the boy’s death highlighted the need to fix the healthcare system.
Head of the patients and friends’ federation Marios Kouloumas said such statements were unfortunate.
“You cannot essentially tell doctors ‘don’t worry, whatever you do, the system is to blame’,” he said.
In an open letter to medical staff published on Monday afternoon, the health minister urged them to pay no attention to people who wanted to devalue the work in state facilities by speaking of collapse, decay of the health sector, lack of infrastructure and staff.
“Especially when these descriptions are included in an announcement by the Pasyki board, where it is attempted to link the long-standing problems in state hospitals with the death of the 10-year-old pupil and the ongoing investigation,” Ioannou said.
The minister acknowledged the problems, which, according to him, stemmed from the manner of operation that had concluded its cycle and was now an obstacle to development and progress.
Ioannou urged frontline medical staff to warmly embrace the planned reforms that would eventually separate the capable ones from the less so and let them show their real skills.