Sunday, January 21, 2018

Baby Simeon needs an inquest

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Mark Fraser

The spotlight now moves to the Medical Board following the release of the Ibrahim Committee inquiry into the death of Baby Simeon Cottle. The committee’s findings of negligence of a “very high order” amounting to a prima facie case of medical negligence raises a number of questions about the way forward. On the civil side, it moves to the professional disciplinary stage where the Medical Board would be expected to review the report, investigate further as required and act. To the general public, the workings of the Medical Board is a mystery. It is managed by a council appointed by the Minister of Health. Of the 11-member council, eight are medical doctors including the Chief Medical Officer, two medical practitioners, four medical practitioners elected by the Medical Board and a medical practitioner nominated by The University of the West Indies. The other three are nominees of the Inter-Religious Organisation, an attorney and an accountant. The Medical Board is essentially a professional organisation concerned largely with the licensing and registration of doctors and maintenance of professional standards.

While the Ibrahim Inquiry has raised the issue of medical negligence, what remains to be dealt with is whether there is a case of criminal negligence to be. To answer this question, the only way forward is through a coroner’s inquest.

A baby has died and, as the Ibrahim Report leaves no doubt, he was the victim of negligence. Whether such negligence rises to the level of gross negligence is something that can only be established through the constitutionally provided channels for doing so.

An inquest into the death of Simeon Cottle will provide a transparent process before which all relevant parties will be required, by law, to appear and be questioned. On the basis of such a hearing, a coroner will determine whether or not any party has a case to answer in a court of law. Justice demands that this case not disappear into the civil or professional realm without the opportunity for determining whether the death of this baby was the result of criminal conduct.

If there is anything that can be retrieved from the tragic death of Baby Simeon, it must be a strict adherence, on the pain of penalty, to clear, well-established, effective hospital protocols regarding the presence of the required personnel, availability of the necessary resources including blood, and reporting criteria that is securely kept away from any temptation to tampering.

Establishing and enforcing protocols is only half of the process, however; the other half is to ensure that the public is aware of those protocols and feels empowered enough to insist that they be observed.

Like Quelly Ann Cottle and Emil Milligton, parents of Baby Simeon, many who suffer at the hands of the health system, both public and private, turn to the media after being stonewalled by officials and institutions that do not recognise their right to information. Let us not wait for another tragedy to learn the needed lessons.