NA medical superintendent to oppose transfer order By Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
January 23, 2002

Medical superintendent of the New Amsterdam hospital, Dr John Austin is of the view that he has been singled out for victimisation and has vowed to resist efforts to transfer him to the Georgetown Public Hospital.

According to the surgeon, the commission appointed by Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy to conduct an investigation into two deaths at the hospital did not find him guilty of any offence and therefore he refuses to be transferred.

The five-man commission recommended that Dr Austin be transferred "for a period to the Georgetown Hospital where it is believed he will benefit from a busier and more structured service." One of the deaths investigated was that of Shahabodeen Kassim who was shot by a bandit and who it was alleged waited two hours for the general surgeon to arrive. According to the commission's report, Kassim's injury was so serious that a different outcome was unlikely given the available service at the hospital. Dr Ramsammy in a recent television programme in New Amsterdam said he intended to implement the recommendation of the commission to transfer Dr Austin to Georgetown. Stabroek News understands the surgeon is contemplating legal action.

In the aftermath of the death of Kassim and another patient identified as Chatterpaul, the minister paid several impromptu visits to the regional hospital.

Ramsammy publicly castigated doctors for laziness and was accused of manhandling a foreign doctor. However, he has refuted the allegation saying it was "a malicious lie" and "a lot of nonsense." Since then the doctor and his wife, also a doctor, have left the country.

Stabroek News understands that another senior doctor is contemplating leaving the institution because of what has been described as harassment and intimidation.

Sources at the hospital say the minister's public condemnation of staff has undermined morale and relations between the two parties. Conditions at the institution such as poor salaries, inadequate equipment and staff shortages are said to be responsible for the poor services offered.

The five-man commission had urged that "the service of the hospital be urgently improved as it relates to professional assets, medical personnel and laboratory services." However, Ramsammy is of the view that maximum use is not being made of the existing human and physical resources at the hospital arguing that this is the cause of its woes.

Recently Ramsammy has been talking about beefing up the hospital's medical staff but sources say the problem has been an age-old one with brief periods of improvement. "The hospital has been experiencing a shortage of doctors for the past five to six years and we have been calling for more since then but to no avail," one informed source told this newspaper. Medexes have been running the outpatient and accident and emergency departments for several years now.

Another source posited that the minister of health has been publicly criticizing the health sector as if he was an outsider and not part of the sector. "His attitude and style has intimidated and strained relations with staff at the institution", the source said.

Despite promises in November last by Ramsammy that rooms for doctors on duty would be improved, nothing further has developed. "Numerous requests to the regional administration and the ministry to complete the water supply system have fallen on deaf ears," one official said. "Yet management is blamed for works which must be executed by either of the two."

At the moment there is only one government medical officer (GMO) at the hospital but Ramsammy last week said another is to join the staff from Georgetown this week while a further two will do so shortly.

A source at the hospital told this newspaper that doctors based at the Georgetown Hospital are reluctant to move to New Amsterdam. According to the source, this hospital is in need of at least seven GMOs to cater for an efficient 24-hour shift system. This newspaper recently learnt that the institution needs five more consultants/specialists to complement the present four.

Last month a source at the hospital told this newspaper "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. Inadequate water supply over a 24-hour period, inadequate electricity supply and the absence of an anaesthetic machine in the operating theatre of the accident and emergency unit continue to plague the institution. Ramsammy had promised last year that the water problem would have been solved by last October."

Since 1992 the hospital has been experiencing water supply problems with only some wards receiving water. On a daily basis, maids, porters, relatives and patients are forced to fetch water by buckets up to the wards. According to a source "the ministry and the regional administration have known of the problems for several years now."