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Judge knocks public officials
A High Court judge is calling on the Ministry of Health to launch an inquiry into why a health authority failed to provide the medical records of a female patient who died at the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH) ten years ago. In dismissing a medical negligence lawsuit brought against the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA), Justice Frank Seepersad expressed disapproval at the SWRHA’s actions, or lack thereof.
Roy Caesar sued the SWRHA after his youngest daughter, Esla Caesar, 25, the mother of one, died on September 13, 2004, at the SFGH four days after an operation to remove a tumour in her brain. The surgery was a success, Caesar said in his affidavit but he claimed negligence in the post-care treatment. The father of four, who lives in Tobago, said his daughter developed gangrene in her toes and died from broncho-pneumonia.
He blamed negligent post-operative care for his daughter developing the conditions which led to her sudden and unexpected death, which, he said, had caused grief and trauma to the family, including her son, then three. Despite several efforts over the last six years, the father said he did not get a single medical report from the SWRHA. In delivering judgment in the San Fernando High Court, the judge said there was insufficient evidence.
He said the medical records would have helped determine the nature of the treatment given to Caesar in relation to her surgery and development of any other condition. Saying the court felt constrained to comment on the SWRHA’s conduct, he said: “The defendant failed, refused and/or neglected to furnish the claimants with any documentation with respect to the treatment afforded to the deceased.
“The defendant discharges a public function where free medical care is afforded to citizens. In such a circumstance, there must be an obligation to discharge its functions efficiently and effectively and there must always be public accountability. “Any documentation in relation to the deceased’s treatment ought to have been disclosed and if the documentation was misplaced or lost, then attempts ought to have ben made to contact and obtain statements from the doctors and nurses who treated the deceased.”
He added: “Public officials and functionaries must always be accountable for their actions. The Ministry of Health would be well advised to conduct an inquiry into this matter and the course adopted in this matter ought never to be repeated.” However, the judge said the claimants failed to lead the requested evidence to support their case and could have tried to obtain information from the neurosurgeon who did the surgery.
Having considered the history of the case, the lack of assistance and information from SWRHA, including the failure to file witness statements, the judge made no order for costs. The claimants were represented by attorney Roger Kawalsingh and Lisa Francis. The SWRHA was represented by Andre Rajkumar.
Verdict upsets family
Speaking with reporters outside the court, Caesar said he was totally dissatisfied with the judgment. He complained that the family’s attempts to get the medical records from the four public hospitals — Scarborough, San Fernando, Mt Hope and Port-of-Spain—were unsuccessful. He said he was totally unhappy and might consider appealing the ruling. Contacted yesterday for comment, SWRHA CEO Anil Gosine said he was not aware of the matter and said he had to speak with the authority’s legal adviser before commenting.