Fraudulence and incompetence dabbling with our lives

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The face in the picture made it all the more startling: A pretty, smiling, unquestionably young and vibrant female – the type which that famous song, The Way You Do The Things You Do, could have had in mind to tell “You could have been anything that you wanted.”

Instead the sordid, incongruous revelation was that she is the one arrested recently by police and slapped with multiple criminal charges related to her alleged attempt to falsify documents in order to misrepresent her qualifications (or lack thereof), and thereby gain licensed recognition to practice as a pharmacist here in Antigua and Barbuda.

That criminality and deviousness can (and very often do) hide behind a mask of attractiveness and beauty is hardly the main scary point of this editorial. Rather, it is that the fraudulence had set its sight on infiltrating the inner sanctum of a closely allied medical field which holds the potential power of life and death over so many of us – pharmacology. It’s child’s play to get irreparably harmed or even killed by someone who takes and fills our medical prescriptions, substitutes what’s available in place of what’s requested without compromising efficacy or endangering safety – if that person has not been properly trained . . . does not know what they are doing.

The young lady is, at this time, innocent until proven guilty.  We can only hope, pray, that should the allegations against her turn out to be true, that there would not have already been any victims (in whatever way) of this masquerade or any others like it. Even more important, that there would not be others like that out there, who somehow managed to beat the system, to evade detection, to dodge scrutiny; and in the process do untold, irreparable harm to people’s health and well-being. After all, it takes very little imagination to divine the range of uninsurable horrors that a fake pharmacist can wreak in the lives of trusting, unwary people who want only what their doctor has ordered them to obtain.

We prefer to let ourselves be heartened and persuaded of better things: that the system of scrutiny put in place by our health and law enforcement authorities is efficacious, is working, and this is why the now-accused fraudster was accosted, intercepted, and prevented. Let that soon become true of any and all others who may have somehow managed to slip through some crack, hiding in some back part of a pharmacy business, managing to stay out of sight but continuing to apply their hands and minds to an expertise they have not attained at possibly dreadful cost and consequence to others.

We trust that the same level of rigorous and uncompromising scrutiny will be applied to what many regard as the more prestigious, more elite allied fields medical and surgical practice. There may not be doctors egregious enough to practice outright without the required certificates and licenses. What we do think seriously needs inquiring into, is whether there are doctors in Antigua and Barbuda who are undertaking therapeutic interventions or performing surgical procedures that are outside or beyond the scope of their competence, training, specialization or expertise.

This is not far-fetched, as there have been instances of people dying while under what was supposed to be closely supervised medical care and whose surviving relatives are convinced that what they regard as their loved one’s untimely passing had something to do with the doctor doing something wrong in relation to a procedure, or just plain not knowing what he was doing – but never admitting it for the simple and obvious reason of not wanting to shoulder the liabilities that could become due in a more transparent system.

For example there are about four families we know of because they have approached us (but who do not know each other) complaining about a doctor performing gastro-intestinal procedures for which he does not seem sufficiently trained or skilled, and something going wrong in the course of the endoscopy or colonoscopy and the person suffering some harm which turned out to be fatal. They believe that the true cause of death of their loved one – and the culpability for it – is likely a perforation of the colon or esophagus by the endoscope or other flexible tube insert, because the doctor handling it likely did not know what he was doing. One woman complained to us about the white-coat wall of silence she encountered in trying to find answers, while a young mother told us that only emergency medical evacuation to Canada saved her son’s life after his food pipe was punctured by an endoscope that she claims was carelessly or unskillfully inserted.

In at least three of the four cases mentioned, the doctor was the same! We posit that licensed doctors who fumble and bungle outside the scope of their competence and expertise, are just as dangerous as persons using fake documents in the hope of securing licenses to dispense drugs meant to heal, but which we know can also kill.

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