EDITORIAL: Self-discipline … of sorts

The untimely death of the much-beloved Esme Stevens will not be in vain or pass with a whimper. That is because her family and friends are agitating for accountability.  To this end, they have launched a petition on change.org in an effort to force those in authority to take all necessary steps to investigate the matter and implement the Disciplinary Committee as called for by the Medical Practitioners Act of 2009.  This action is being taken so as to hold licensed medical practitioners in Antigua and Barbuda accountable for their actions.  

The family is of the opinion that Esme “unnecessarily lost her life on September 11, 2018, as a result of a routine medical procedure gone wrong at the hands of a licensed and experienced medical practitioner in Antigua and Barbuda.”  Further, they claim in the petition that “the doctor’s failure to act as any ‘experienced’ doctor would in this situation, have significantly altered the outcome of the routine procedure and can only be considered as gross medical negligence or malpractise.”

Without an investigation by the relevant authorities and the release of those findings, we must keep in mind that this is the family’s opinion and not “fact.”

As the petition points out, it has been nine years since the Act was passed and still no disciplinary committee, as called for by law.  In response, the Minister of Health, Molwyn Joseph, has indicated that there has been great difficulty getting local doctors to cooperate and sit on the disciplinary committee.  No reason was advanced for the difficulty during his presentation to Parliament, so we are left to make assumptions as to the reasons, and we do not believe that assuming anything is productive to this public discussion.  Instead, we will wait for the medical fraternity to address the situation and expound on the minister’s assessment. 

With the caveat that we have not heard from the medical practitioners on this matter, it is an understatement to say that it is unfortunate that the disciplinary committee has not been established and that the medical fraternity does not see this as an extremely important aspect of maintaining trust in the field.  Further, it would appear to be heading in a direction that is not in the doctors’ best interest, if they cannot find three doctors and two ordinary members to serve on the committee, as prescribed in the law.

According to the health minister, he has tried since coming to office to establish the committee but has been unsuccessful.  He approached the Attorney General with an alternative that revolved around the idea of amending the law to afford the Ministry of Health the ability to secure doctors outside of Antigua and Barbuda to serve.  The AG advised against foreign committee members and instead recommended an amendment that would allow people of other disciplines to serve on the disciplinary committee.  This will allow retired judges, retired nurses and others who are willing and able to serve on the committee to do so.

Neither of these recommendations seem to serve the best interests of the doctors, so the obvious question is: why would the medical fraternity not step up and establish the disciplinary committee as per the law?  As we have said before, we have to wait for the doctors to add their two cents to this public debate but they better come good, because nine years of a dormant disciplinary committee is a long time.  

The minister made another statement that caught our attention.  He said, “I am of the view, and I have discussed this with the Prime Minister, that it is time that we look at liability insurance, medical insurance in Antigua and Barbuda.”  To be honest, we would have thought that this would have been in place already. Aren’t doctors and medical facilities required to have liability and medical insurance?  You cannot operate a motor vehicle without insurance but are we to understand that you can offer services that have life and death implications without insurance?  We have a hard time grasping that as a reality.  Maybe the minister can elaborate for the education of the public.

The family and friends of Esme Stevens have suffered through an ordeal and they want some answers.  It is beyond unfortunate that they are unable to appeal to anyone to get the satisfaction that they desire and deserve in this time of mourning.

Eventually, their feelings of frustrations will turn into anger, if they have not already, and the situation will turn from bad to worse.  Our prayers and thoughts remain with Esme’s family but we also hope and pray that the medical fraternity will make the disciplinary committee a top priority, so that those who feel aggrieved can find an outlet to have their concerns and complaints addressed.  

The doctors should keep in mind that if they do not discipline themselves, others will do it for them.

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