GOV’T SUF­FER­ING FROM FOOT IN MOUTH DIS­EASE – FER­GU­SON

For­mer health min­is­ter says ad­min­is­tra­tion now caught in own trap on dead ba­bies is­sue:

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Erica Virtue Se­nior Gleaner Writer erica.virtue@glean­erjm.com

DR FENTON Fer­gu­son – who had a tu­mul­tuous ten­ure as health min­is­ter un­der the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion – is now con­tend­ing that cur­rent gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who nailed him to the po­lit­i­cal cross while they were in op­po­si­tion are now suf­fer­ing silently from “foot in mouth dis­ease”.

The then em­bat­tled min­is­ter was blamed for a num­ber of ills be­falling Ja­maica dur­ing his term in of­fice, among them the chikun­gunya (chikV) out­break that brought the coun­try to its knees; the foot and mouth dis­ease that hit sev­eral schools; and the deaths of 19 pre­ma­ture ba­bies at two of the is­land’s ma­jor hos­pi­tals aris­ing from an out­break of the lethal kleb­siella and ser­ra­tia bac­te­ria.

Fer­gu­son also came un­der im­mense fire for his re­fusal to re­lease the long-awaited and much-an­tic­i­pated Au­dit Re­port of the four Re­gional Health Au­thor­i­ties, which af­ter loud pub­lic out­cry was fi­nally re­leased. He was ac­cused of not be­ing trans­par­ent and lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from his min­istry.

RE­LIEVED OF DU­TIES

With the pres­sure mount­ing from sev­eral quar­ters for his head on a plat­ter, he was even­tu­ally re­lieved of his health min­is­ter du­ties and re­as­signed to an­other min­istry. In fact, the then op­po­si­tion Ja­maica Labour Party made Fer­gu­son a cen­tral point of its cam­paign for the 2016 gen­eral elec­tion. And his ut­ter­ance that “they were not ba­bies in the real sense”, in ref­er­ence to the dead pre­ma­ture ba­bies, only added fuel to the fire.

In an in­ter­view with The Sun­day Gleaner last week fol­low­ing the re­lease of the Pub­lic De­fender’s re­port on last year’s deaths of the pre­ma­ture ba­bies, which cleared med­i­cal and hos­pi­tals of­fi­cials of any wrong­do­ing, Fer­gu­son said the si­lence of the then vo­cif­er­ous cru­ci­fy­ing crew was now deaf­en­ing.

“The crit­i­cisms came from right, left and cen­tre. They came for my head and they got it. Among the crit­ics were the now prime min­is­ter, the at­tor­ney gen­eral, who was spokesper­son on health, and my op­po­nent De­lano Seiveright. In fact, they all took it to the po­lit­i­cal plat­form. And I firmly main­tain that it could not be in the best in­ter­est of me, as min­is­ter, and hospi­tal per­son­nel to wil­fully cause the deaths of ba­bies,” said the for­mer health min­is­ter.

He said some of those now knock­ing the Pub­lic De­fender’s re­port would be sing­ing a dif­fer­ent tune if it had held any­one cul­pa­ble.

“You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but you can­not have your cake and eat it. If the re­port blamed any­one, peo­ple would have said their cases are strength­ened. But be­cause it says oth­er­wise, it’s now a prob­lem,” said Fer­gu­son.

PUB­LIC DE­FENDER’S RE­PORT

In her re­port, Pub­lic De­fender Ar­lene Har­ri­son Henry said there was no ev­i­dence that the ba­bies were in­fected with ser­ra­tia and kleb­siella be­cause of med­i­cal neg­li­gence on the part of hospi­tal em­ploy­ees. The re­port also dis­puted me­dia re­ports that there was an out­break.

The re­port con­cluded that the eight pre­ma­ture ba­bies who died in sep­a­rate in­fec­tious in­ci­dents at the Univer­sity Hospi­tal of the West Indies in June last year were the “un­for­tu­nate vic­tims of an un­der-re­sourced med­i­cal fa­cil­ity”.

“There is no ev­i­dence of med­i­cal neg­li­gence on the part of the hospi­tal staff which led to the in­fec­tion of the preterm ba­bies with ser­ra­tia marcescens and kleb­siella. Nei­ther was there any ev­i­dence of med­i­cal neg­li­gence on the part of hospi­tal staff in the treat­ment, care and man­age­ment of the preterm ba­bies who passed,” the re­port said.

It added, “The pre­ma­ture ba­bies, who were par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to in­fec­tions, be­came the un­for­tu­nate vic­tims of an un­der-re­sourced med­i­cal fa­cil­ity.”

The re­port, which was penned af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that in­cluded in­ter­views with top hospi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tors at the time, said it “ap­pears from the ev­i­dence that the con­cept of an out­break was purely a me­dia cre­ation”.

“There was no out­break at the Neona­tal Unit between June and Oc­to­ber 2015. That which tran­spired was not un­usual and the in­fec­tious hap­pen­ings were part of the haz­ards of low birth weight, un­de­vel­oped or­gans and im­mune sys­tems and the hospi­tal en­vi­ron­ment,” the re­port said, not­ing that seven preterm ba­bies died from the in­fec­tions in sep­a­rate in­ci­dents in Oc­to­ber 2011 and De­cem­ber 2013.

At least two at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing par­ents of the dead pre­ma­ture ba­bies have said the re­port had the po­ten­tial of throw­ing cold wa­ter on the cases they were pur­su­ing.

Com­ment­ing on the re­cent deaths of ba­bies at the Vic­to­ria Ju­bilee Hospi­tal, Fer­gu­son said the re­port on that mat­ter has left more ques­tions than an­swers, and urged a more in-depth study of the find­ings that were pre­sented at a press con­fer­ence last week.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that cur­rent Health Min­is­ter Dr Christo­pher Tufton got a pass­ing grade for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, he pointed out that “com­mu­ni­ca­tion and photo op­por­tu­nity with­out sub­stance are mean­ing­less”.

Fer­gu­son said is­sues such as health, ed­u­ca­tion, and na­tional se­cu­rity, in par­tic­u­lar crime, should never be politi­cised, and in spite of the “foot in mouth dis­ease now af­flict­ing the Gov­ern­ment”, he hoped a les­son was learnt.

“The cur­rent op­po­si­tion party is a re­spon­si­ble one, and hence politi­cis­ing the is­sues will not hap­pen. But we all re­mem­ber how much pol­i­tics was played dur­ing my time as min­is­ter. And I have to ask, where are they all now?” Fer­gu­son de­clared.

You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but you can­not have your cake and eat it. – Fer­gu­son.

Fenton Fer­gu­son

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