THE authorities have not accustomed us to acting decisively and promptly. This is why the five-day remand orders issued last Saturday against two doctors in connection with the death a day earlier of a 10-year-old boy who was treated for a head injury at the A&E department of Larnaca general hospital came as a surprise.
Within a few hours of the boy’s passing on the operating table of Nicosia general hospital, where he had been rushed to because of the seriousness of his condition, the health ministry had carried out an administrative investigation and decided there could be a case of criminal negligence. According to the reports, the boy had a fractured skull which the doctors failed to observe on the X-ray and he had not been given a CT scan. He was sent home but was brought back to the hospital within hours after his condition had rapidly deteriorated and subsequently rushed to Nicosia general.
Normally, an administrative investigation by a ministry would take weeks, if not months, to complete and rarely, if ever, deal with medical negligence at public hospitals. The decision to carry out an investigation and the speed with which it was carried out may have had more to do with the health ministry wanting to manage the negative publicity that the boy’s tragic death would generate than with a tougher policy on suspected medical negligence. Suspected negligence cases against doctors at public hospitals are almost never undertaken by the state, but by the injured party or their family through legal action.
Would the ministry have acted so speedily if an elderly patient was misdiagnosed and died in a hospital? Such cases never make the news so the government would not dream of pursuing them. Of course, regardless of the ministry’s motives it was correct to take speedy action – even once – and shake health professionals out of their unionised complacency. The government doctors’ union Pasyki did not approve of the ministry’s actions and has announced a two-hour work stoppage on Wednesday in protest against the “unprecedented castigation of health workers”. Pasyki took the easy way out of blaming the poor state of public hospitals for what happened and accused the health ministry of washing its hands of the situation.
It was exactly the reaction expected from the union. Its members cannot be blamed for anything because the hospitals are not modernised. There was no recognition of the fact that good and committed professionals always to do their best regardless of the conditions they work in. It is true that they are more likely to make mistakes when working in poor conditions, but they cannot be untouchable because of this, as Pasyki was suggesting.
Pasyki should leave aside the strikes and simply allow the courts to decide if there was medical negligence.