Critical issues

Dr Tiffany Hoyte - THA
Dr Tiffany Hoyte - THA

HERE IS a sickening fact: while people are dying daily of covid19, many others are dying in hospitals not because of any particular ailment but rather due to the standard of care they receive.

Globally, as many as four in ten patients are harmed in health facilities, owing to things like medication errors, hospital infections, unsafe surgical care, bad injection practices and diagnostic errors. So says a 2018 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Today’s observation of World Patient Safety Day is a chance to take stock of the complexity of issues facing patients today.

It’s not always easy to identify when lapses in care have occurred in TT, especially given the litigious environment medical officials now operate in and the complacency that sets in because our standards are relatively higher than other developing nations.

But over the years, individual cases, as well as a plethora of formal inquiries, have all but confirmed the need for more careful scrutiny of what happens in our hospitals.

The calls made by the Opposition for a commission of inquiry into covid19 deaths reflect more than politics: it points to the fact that, generally, there is more in the mortar than the pestle.

The grim reality is that the likelihood of harm due to patient safety issues is exacerbated by over-stretched resources, and the covid19 pandemic has clearly pushed our healthcare system to its limit, if not beyond the breaking point.

Parallel health system or no, patients are in a worse-off position when beds, personnel, equipment and expertise must be stretched to attend to more and more individuals.

Nothing better demonstrates this than the fact that Tobago’s covid19 intensive care unit (ICU) was deemed “over capacity” this month by the County Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) for Tobago, Dr Tiffany Hoyte.

THA Secretary of Health, Wellness and Family Development Tracy Davidson-Celestine has said a new ICU will be completed in weeks.

But as laudable as that is, seven new beds are hardly enough to staunch any onslaught of cases on the island, especially with the super-infectious delta variant of covid19 known to have entered the country.

The failure of ordinary citizens and workers in Tobago especially to get vaccinated has implications for the safety of hospital patients, with long-term conditions and otherwise, because of how this increases the chances of a spike and diverts attention from regular treatment measures. Already, many non-covid19 patients, some requiring surgery, have had regimes and procedures – scheduled years in advance – deferred endlessly.

If things do not improve, we may have to follow the example set by Grenada, which recently announced it was setting up a committee to triage who gets treated for covid19 and who does not – a grim decision for medical staff, patients and their families.

Our population and the Government need to ensure things do not come to that here.


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