Regional health officer denies being summoned to NA Hospital
Stabroek News
December 9, 2001

Regional Health Officer in Region Six, Dr Kalika Persaud, has denied reports that he was asked to go to the New Amsterdam Hospital on the evening of Saturday, November 24 to render medical assistance to 25-year-old Shahabodeen Kassim who was bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to his buttock.

Kassim's relatives had told Stabroek News that a junior doctor had called Dr Persaud and requested his presence at the hospital to render assistance shortly after the wounded man had arrived at the institution.

Dr Persaud reportedly told the junior doctor that he could not respond to his request, since he was about to leave for the Virgin Islands. However, Dr Persaud is refuting the report.

He told Stabroek News that he first learnt of the emergency when former assistant police commissioner, Sultan Kassim and Region Six Community Relations Officer, Faizal Jaffarally, rushed to his home "some time between 6:30 and 7:00 pm that evening." He said he was informed by the two men of the shooting and that there was no doctor at the hospital to attend to the wounded man. Persaud said he then telephoned the hospital and spoke to the junior doctor. According to the RHO, he was told that the junior doctor had stabilized the patient and referred him to the orthopaedic surgeon. He was also informed that the general surgeon had been contacted by nurses, since the orthopaedic surgeon had referred the patient to the general surgeon.

"At no time was I asked to go to the hospital," he said.

Shahabodeen's father, businessman Rahamatoola Kasim had told this newspaper that the junior doctor had called the RHO in his presence requesting his assistance but was told by the latter that he was about to leave for an overseas trip.

The relatives of the dead man contended then and still maintain that Dr Persaud should have responded, having learnt from the two men who had gone to his home seeking his assistance, that there was no doctor at the hospital.

This newspaper has been reliably informed that the RHO did not leave New Amsterdam for the airport until 9:45 pm.

Kassim was not taken to the operating theatre until 8:55 pm, more than two hours after he arrived at the Accident and Emergency Unit.

Meanwhile, this newspaper has learnt that the severe shortage of doctors at the regional hospital is seriously affecting its health care delivery. As a result doctors are being asked to work unreasonably long hours in violation of rules and regulations.

At present, the institution has eight doctors when the full complement should be sixteen.

A senior Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) official told this newspaper that doctors should not be asked to work for more than 16 hours. "On completion of one shift, they should not be asked to return to work for at least another eight hours without any form of relief."

Some observers have also pointed to the attitude of some nurses, particularly on night shifts, and the need for them to be trained to cope with emergency situations.

An informed source at the institution told this newspaper that "from all indications two individuals at the institution are being unfairly targeted in a smokescreen to deflect attention from the real issues affecting the hospital. One of the major issues affecting the hospital is that of poor management."

According to the source, there are no clear-cut guidelines or policy on how the hospital should be managed. "No one knows who is in charge of the hospital... what are the functions of the administrator, the medical superintendent and the regional health officer."

Stabroek News understands that under the hospital's staffing structure the general surgeon, who is also the medical superintendent, is senior to the regional health officer.

"The Ministry of Health is still to resolve these important issues and to outline a clear-cut policy on how the hospital should be managed," the source said. "This is one of the main reasons why so many things are going wrong at the hospital."

Another source told this newspaper that despite public statements by the Minister of Health promising improvements to the institution, several problems still affect its operations. According to the source, inadequate water supply on a 24-hour basis still remained a problem despite promises by Ramsammy that the problem would have been solved by October.

Inadequate electricity supply was also creating serious difficulties at the laboratory and the blood bank, while the operating theatre at the Accident and Emergency Unit was in need of an anaesthetic machine. According to the source, if these issues were not resolved quickly the hospital would continue to experience difficulties and situations similar to the death of Shahabodeen Kassim were likely to recur.

Over recent years many patients have lost their lives while seeking medical attention at the regional institution. The Health Ministry had launched investigations into the deaths but no reports had been made public nor had anyone been found culpable.