The shortage of forensic pathologists is so severe that Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan is considering whether practical experience over a certain number of years can be used to confer specialist degrees.
Khan, who was speaking during a break in Parliament yesterday, said he was holding talks with forensic pathologist Dr Valery Alexandrov to determine whether that was possible.
The Health Minister said there were two kinds of pathologists, general and forensic.
He added: “A forensic pathologist will require an additional six years of specialising in that field as opposed to a general pathologist but worldwide there is a severe shortage of pathologists.”
He said he also was considering the implementation of a register which would list doctors’ specialities.
A specialist register would also avoid discrepancies in autopsy reports as in the case of Lance Cpl Curtis Marshall, said Dr Amery Browne, MP for Diego Martin Central.
He said the issue was first raised by former health minister John Rahael who was working with the Medical Council to implement the register.
The first two autopsies on Marshall listed the cause of death as asphyxia consistent with strangulation.
However, a third autopsy said he died from an asthma attack.
The aim of the register, Browne added, was to clarify grey areas regarding the specific qualifications.
He added: “There was a proposal for a specialist register which former minister Rahael was working to establish and he was working closely with the Medical Council.
“This would basically address the different categories of specialists and would also iron out all the grey areas.”
He said when cases like Marshall’s arose, it eroded public confidence.
Browne added: “We have seen cases like this come up time-and-time again and it is not a good sign for the medical profession when the qualifications of doctors are always questioned.
“That is why the register is so important and urgent. You may have people who consider themselves specialists but who are not registered.”
Khan is not the line minster for forensic pathologists.
They previously fell under the National Security Ministry but are now employed by the Justice Ministry, former justice minister Herbert Volney explained yesterday.
Other varying verdicts
Marshall’s autopsy results are not the first to be questioned.
When the body of eight-year-old Daniel Guerra was found in San Fernando in 2011 three post-mortems were conducted.
The initial autopsy, performed by pathologist Dr Eastlyn McDonald-Burris, supervised by Dr Valery Alexandrov, found the cause of death was drowning.
A second autopsy by pathologist Hubert Daisley found the child died from asphyxia—lack of oxygen—before he went into the river along the Tarouba Link Road, San Fernando.
A third finding, by US pathologist Dr James Gill, was that homicidal asphyxia was the cause of death.
There was also confusion over the recent death of housewife Stacy Ramdeen after police raided her Caroni home.
Police claimed Ramdeen swallowed cocaine while they were searching her home and subsequently died at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex while doctors were trying to revive her.
An autopsy by pathologist Dr Hughvon des Vignes concluded Ramdeen died from asphyxia and also suffered chronic coronary complications. No trace of cocaine was found in her system.
A second autopsy by Daisley found she died from strangulation.
Gill has reviewed these findings but the results are yet to be released.
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan is wrong to say McDonald-Burris is not qualified because she is not registered with the Medical Board, says former judge and justice minister Herbert Volney.
He said in his 16 years as a senior high court judge, no judge or attorney had questioned McDonald-Burris’ qualifications.
Khan made the statement last week after there were discrepancies in Marshall’s two autopsies.
Volney yesterday agreed McDonald-Burris was not registered but said she was an expert in her field because she has been doing post mortems for the past 12 years and hence had gained experience and expertise as a
qualified forensic pathologist.
The former minister added Khan was also missing the point when it came to legal matters, such as giving evidence in court.
He said: “When someone is registered with the medical board it means that person is an expert and therefore automatically qualified to give an opinion as an expert in the court.
“While Dr McDonald-Burris is not registered, she has been trained as such on a speciality basis in terms of the number of autopsies she has performed over the years and her expert opinion is readily accepted.”