The recent decision by Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams that the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) was guilty of medical negligence in the 2014 death of 35-year-old Navin Singh is another example of what is clearly wrong with the public health system in T&T and what makes us even more worried about our ability to deal with the emerging pandemic that is the coronavirus.
Quinlan-Williams’ judgement surrounded Singh’s death due to a flesh-eating bacteria which was mis-diagnosed, not once, but twice by different doctors at the Princes Town Health Facility.
The Court heard that Singh was initially diagnosed by Dr Shane Karim with sciatica. Karim prescribed tramadol, gravol and zantac and sent Singh home. Singh returned to the facility two days later, where he was attended to by Dr Stephen Mc Benedict, who also diagnosed him with the same sciatica.
What is worrying is that both doctors did not see the need to rule out the possibility of a more serious illness by doing the necessary blood tests but rather relied solely on their clinical judgement.
This is not to say that doctors must practice the type of defensive medicine that leads to the wastage of limited resources but surely there must be a balance struck in which the over-arching concern is quality of treatment and the best outcome for the patient.
That Mr Singh would return to the Health facility in a worse condition and the attending physician Dr Mc Benedict would make the same findings without further tests can only mean one of three things, he did not read the previous notes, he was afraid to change the diagnosis made by his colleague or he simply did not pay sufficient attention to the welfare of his patient.
It is also disturbing that the judge found Dr Mc Benedict to be an unreliable witness.
It is well known that there is a culture in the local health system of covering up mistakes and it is to the credit of the late Mr Singh’s mother, Bhagwantee, that she was prepared to take the SWRHA to court and to also find an expert medical witness to press her case against the SWRHA which was prepared to defend the matter in court rather than settle with the family. Even this victory cannot satisfy Mrs Singh whose son will not be brought back to life. But in some ways its a victory for the many who have lost their family members due to negligence and have had no recourse.
What is to come of these two doctors? Are there consequences to this adverse findings? Are we going to see another situation like what happened at the Mount Hope Women’s Hospital when in performing a C Section a doctor in error killed the child when the scalpel went too deep and we have heard nothing of the outcome? The Medical Board of T&T must tell us what are the consequences for these kinds of errors and how do we ensure that there are penalties for such action.