Merit found in complaint against doctors in Carol Joseph matter
-Medical Council disciplinary committee to deliberate
The Medical Council of Guyana (MCG) has found merit in a complaint of opioid prescription abuse against three doctors attached to the Fort Wellington Hospital and has sent a report to its disciplinary committee for a decision.
“We have completed our investigations and how the Medical Council is set up we are supposed to send it to a special select committee where they will decide on what course of action should be taken,” Chairman of the MCG, Dr Navin Rambarran told Stabroek News when contacted.
“Sending it to the committee does not necessarily mean that anyone is guilty, it is just the procedure that we take, according the Medical Practitioners Act,” he added.
Rambarran explained that while no timeframe is set for when the committee should complete the process, given the “seriousness of the allegations” it is expected that it would be expedited and a decision made swiftly.
“The committee looks at the case to see if there are penalties or wrongdoings and we have decided that there is merit for the complaint. They will now bring in the persons, according to the Act and which falls under the disciplinary committee to see what steps are to be taken. But like I said it does not mean a doctor was guilty it just means that without our finding merit in the complaint it could not go forward. We confine our reviews directly out of the Health Act and as such it is not something we can decide upon,” Rambarran explained.
The council looked at and reported on its findings into what roles the three doctors played in the matter where former Region Five Councillor Carol Joseph was accused of abusing her authority to access large amounts of prescription pain medication.
According to regulations accompanying the Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Act it is the MCG that determines the merit of the complaint. “Having regard to any explanation or representation made by the person against whom the complaint is made (MCG) may-(a) determine that the complaint is not established and that no further inquiry need be held; or (b) refer the matter in whole or in part to the Disciplinary Committee. (5) If, during the complaint hearings, the Medical Council determines that no inquiry shall be held, the Secretary to the Medical Council shall inform the complainant and the person against whom the complaint is made of the decision in such manner as the Medical Council may direct. (6) Where the Medical Council is of the opinion that a complaint so made might, if factually established, call for the application of disciplinary measures, the Medical Council shall refer the matter to its Disciplinary Committee to hear and report its findings and recommendations to the Medical Council to determine the case,” the regulations state.
“If the Medical Council is of the opinion that it is inexpedient or dangerous or not in the public interest that a person under inquiry should continue to practice during the pendency of a disciplinary proceeding, the Medical Council may, by order in writing, suspend the registration of the medical practitioner, pending the outcome of the inquiry”, the regulations say.
In dealing with the complaints, the law says that the disciplinary committee shall decide its own procedure but shall have due regard to principles of natural justice.
A formal complaint was made by PPP/C Member of Parliament Harry Gill against Dr Steven Cheefoon, Dr Ivelaw Sinclair and Dr Adrian Van Nooten, who are all attached to the Fort Wellington Public Hospital, West Coast Berbice. Dr Cheefoon is also the Regional Health Officer of Region Five.
Letters were written by the MCG to the doctors named in the complaint, and they replied. In addition, the MCG questioned several persons and analyzed the Fort Wellington Hospital’s log book for prescription narcotics to see “the frequency of how the drugs were prescribed and administered.”
Thus far, neither the Ministry of Public Health nor the Ministry of Communities has launched any investigation into this matter.
Joseph resigned from the Region Five Regional Democratic Council on April 21 this year, two days after Stabroek News published a report on her alleged abuse of medication. The matter had been drawn to the public’s notice by Gill after Nurse Sherlyn Marks reported to him that her complaints to senior medical officials about the Joseph case had been ignored.
Marks was abruptly transferred by Region Five Regional Executive Officer Ovid Morrison after the news item on Joseph’s case appeared in this newspaper. Morrison’s transfer of the nurse has been condemned and there have been calls for it to be rescinded. The Ministry of Public Health subsequently said that Marks had breached public service rules and that it had sent her to the Department of the Public Service for action.
Gill pointed out in his complaint to the MCG that Nurse Marks had written to then Minister of Public Health Dr George Norton on the matter on December 13, 2016. In that letter, Marks had said she was being harassed and intimidated by Joseph because of the complaint she had lodged with Dr Chefoon about the medication that was to be administered to Joseph. Marks also sent her letter to a number of other regional and health officials who did nothing about it.
Gill noted that the Medical Practitioners (Code of Conduct and Standards of Practice) Regulations 2008 – Responsibilities to Patients, Regulation 7- paragraph (5) states: “A medical practitioner shall not expose his patients to risks which may arise from a compromise of their own health status (eg dependence on alcohol or other drugs, HIV infection, hepatitis and the like).” In addition, Regulation 36paragraph (11) reads: “The Medical Council may regard the prescription or supply of drugs of dependence otherwise than in the course of bona fide treatment as a serious professional misconduct.”
Gill urged that the MCG conduct the investigation, in keeping with its own Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, to protect the integrity of the medical profession.
Dr Navin Rambarran