Saturday, February 17, 2018

AG considering watchdog council to deal with medical negligence

Baby Simeon death probe to begin


investigation: Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, left, speaks to Dr Petronella Manning-Alleyne yesterday at the office of the Attorney General, Cabildo Chambers, Port of Spain, during a news conference to formally present the committee appointed to investigate the death of baby Simeon Cottle. —Photo: ANISTO ALVES

Mark Fraser

ATTORNEY General Anand Ramlogan yesterday said he will be considering the possibility of establishing a Medical Complaints Council, comprising a panel of medical experts, to assess claims of medical negligence made by aggrieved members of the public. 

Ramlogan said the council would correct the “inequality of arms in the courts” currently experienced by individuals as they attempt to take legal action against the State.

The AG made the statement during a news conference to formally present the committee appointed to investigate the death of Simeon Cottle.

On March 1, Cottle died after his head was cut open when his mother Quelly Ann Cottle underwent a Caesarean section at Mt Hope Women’s Hospital.

Dr Javed Chinnia, who performed the surgery, has since been suspended.

A team comprising United Kingdom specialist Dr Melanie Clare Davies, neonatologist Dr Petronella Manning-Alleyne and chaired by retired judge Mustapha Ibrahim has been appointed by Ramlogan to probe the baby’s death.

“I have met with the members of the committee and asked that this be an objective, hard-hitting enquiry into the facts. I have asked that they not be swayed by anything they’ve read in  the newspapers but to look at the evidence that is presented to them and deal with the matter in their own collective professional experience and wisdom,” Ramlogan said.

“I have no doubt that we will get an unbiased report and one that will be of benefit to the public health-care sector in Trinidad and Tobago to prevent a reoccurrence of these unfortunate tragic cases. I also hope it will bring a measure of closure to the family, whose distress and anguish remains a cause for concern for the Government.”

Ramlogan said this is a “timely intervention” by the Government and an opportune time to take a second look at the issue of maternal health care in Trinidad and Tobago and see how it matches up to international best practice.

“That is why I have asked the committee to shoot from the hip if necessary. I hold no brief for anyone. When I receive that report, if there is any evidence to suggest there is a basis for referring the matter to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) I have no difficulty in doing that, but for now we must respectfully allow the committee to not be inflamed by public passions but to deal with the matter in a dispassionate and indeed compassionate manner to all concerned based on the facts that occurred,” he said.

Ibrahim said the investigation will be done in the quickest time as possible.

“The doctors who are summoned to come as witnesses to testify are entitled to have their legal representatives present and there are one or two at the moment whose legal representative and they themselves are out of the country and they are a little hesitant to come without their legal representatives, but other than that all the other doctors have complied willingly and have come forward as requested.”

Ibrahim said if the investigation unearths evidence for criminal charges to be levelled, they will be.

Ramlogan said there is difficulty in proving cases of medical negligence because doctors are reluctant to testify against their colleagues.

“The crisis that contributes to the problem in this country is that it is a very small country, numerically, and the medical profession, just like the legal profession and any other profession, is quite small and very close-knit ... you cannot fight a case for medical negligence without expert evidence to say that there was negligence and there is a great reluctance on the part of doctors to testify against their colleagues,” Ramlogan said.

“That has hampered the development of the law and has also hampered the lifting of the bar that one would want to see.”

Ramlogan said the establishment of a medical complaints council may assist in correcting this situation.

“In England, they have a Medical Complaints Council and they assess claims from citizens to see if there is any wrongdoing or any negligence involved. It may very well be that I would have to consider through the Law Reform Commission looking at the Medical Complaints Council in England to see if we can establish a similar medical complaints council here in Trinidad to evaluate and assess claims of medical negligence made by aggrieved members of the public, so a panel of independent medical experts can do, so that we do not have the inequality of arms in the courts that we presently have.”

“You have the RHAs (regional health authorities), the Ministry of Health and the Attorney General stacking up a neat stock of expert opinions that they gather from all and sundry and the poor woman or father is left struggling to prove his case because he is not a doctor, the lawyer is not a doctor and there is no doctor who is willing to step forward to vindicate their claim.

“The medical complaints council is an idea whose time has come for Trinidad and Tobago, it is a matter I would have for stakeholder consultation on and speak to the doctors, the health-care professionals and then treat with the matter at Cabinet and if necessary take it to Parliament,” Ramlogan said.