Everything that is wrong with the public health system has once again come to the fore with the tragic death of Baby Simeon, making the point that after all the promises following past disasters, nothing has really changed.
As if the horror of having their baby delivered dead with a gash across his head were not bad enough, Quelly Ann Cottle and her husband Emil Millington were subjected to rank insensitivity by staff at the Mt Hope Hospital and days of runaround when they sought answers. It was not until the grief-stricken father took his case public via the Express that health officials began to respond. The entire chain of events since then demonstrates the absence of hospital protocols for handling such incidents—both on the patient and medical sides, the weakness of the internal investigation process and a general lack of accountability.
In a more professionally-run organisation, there would be no need for the grieving family to go public in order to be heard, or for the Minister of Health to step in and instruct the suspension of staff pending investigation. In an efficient operation, support would be immediately provided for the parents by personnel trained to handle such cases, while all relevant evidence would be secured to protect the integrity of an automatic investigation conducted on an expeditious basis.
The minute the incident became public knowledge, the management of the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital and/or the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) should have issued a clear statement informing the public of the steps being taken to investigate the baby’s death, details of the investigating team, and the time-frame involved for completing the process and making the findings available to the family and the public.
Instead, the parents were left to fend for themselves while the minister got into the mix amid spurts of information released from various sources.
We are deeply troubled by Emil Millington’s complaint that efforts were made by hospital staff to have his wife authorise the immediate cremation of their child and that he was repeatedly blocked from seeing the baby. Public distrust in the health system runs so high that many already see an attempted cover-up in this sequence of events. We hope the investigation which has now begun will not be limited to the surgery but extend to the overall handling of this case. The NCRHA must seize this moment to put the system right by all available means including the introduction and/or re-inforcement of protocols for dealing with patients and evidence handling with clear disciplinary measures for breaches, staff training, improved reporting systems and identification of clear chains of command with built-in systems of accountability.
If the job is beyond those entrusted with the responsibility, then the system must be made to ensure that competent personnel are in place.
If there is anything to be retrieved from this atrocity, it is that no parent should ever have to go through such horror again. Baby Simeon must not be allowed to have died in vain.