Closed wards

THE MINISTRY of Health hosts regular, frequent media conferences, yet when it comes to covid19 patients it leaves too much unanswered.

Asked last week about communications with patients at Couva , “I admitted it freely,” Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh acknowledged at Wednesday’s briefing. “I was not happy with the way we were communicating with patients and their families.”

Mr Deyalsingh went on to speak of “rectifying” the problem through assigning “customer liaisons,” rebuilding the ministry’s “supply chain management” and reviewing its “total communications plan.”

In contrast with such bureaucratic language is the plight of the relatives of people who die while being treated by the medical profession as a whole. The case of Cedric “Burkie” Burke is an example.

The abruptness of Mr Burke’s death, the reported failure of institutions to admit him, reports of his unease over his treatment, and further claims that officials said he was covid19-positive without providing documentation – all raise questions. Whatever your views on him, it is not hard to understand the perspective of Mr Burke’s family.

It may be that, like many covid19 patients, he had underlying conditions which made his condition worse, and was one of the unlucky ones whose status deteriorated rapidly. This is yet to be explained.

Meanwhile, it is also unclear what steps the ministry has taken to protect relatives and members of the community proximate to Mr Burke, given the potential risk of infection if he was indeed suffering from covid19.

The seeming inattention to such details is at odds with the intense interest the State took in Mr Burke while he was alive. He was arrested several times, though a charge of being a gang leader was thrown out in 2011, leading to a lawsuit filed on his behalf.

All this has added to the suspicions over Mr Burke’s death at 45, in addition to the belief that his reputation may have coloured the medical treatment he received. A simple swab can be used to diagnose covid19, even post-mortem. But die under the State’s care and you will find there is nothing simple any more.

The ministry and the public health service must treat all patients and their families in a way that is as open as possible, while maintaining patient confidentiality. It is good that Mr Burke’s records were speedily released; but it should not have taken the threat of litigation.

The issue is a wider one. There have long been complaints about record management and of patients and their families having problems in obtaining their medical files from state facilities.

In a case like this especially, the culture of medical superiority and secrecy can only reinforce the conspiracy theories and the suspicions that the quality and nature of medical intervention patients receive may depend on factors other than their therapeutic need and the commitment and the ethical principles of the medical profession.


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