PM appoints medical team to review covid19 deaths, healthcare

Prime Minister Dr Rowley during Saturday's press conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's.  - Photo courtesy OPM
Prime Minister Dr Rowley during Saturday's press conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's. - Photo courtesy OPM

The Prime Minister has appointed five-member medical team to examine the level of care in the country’s healthcare system, including covid19 deaths, and report to the government in one week.

The committee appointed to investigate the factors contributing to clinical outcomes of covid19 patients in TT will be chaired by Prof Terence Seemungal, dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

It would include Prof Emerita Phyllis Pitt-Miller, consultant anaesthetist and intensive care unit (ICU) specialist, and former dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, UWI; Dr Anton Cumberbatch, former chief medical officer and public health specialist; Dr Vidya Dean, consultant anaesthetist and ICU Specialist; Prof Donald Simeon, director of Caribbean Centre for Health Systems Research and Development and professor of Biostatistics and Research at UWI.

Seemungal in a brief comment to Sunday Newsday said the review was “an important task.”

The Prime Minister announced the decision to appoint the committee at a press conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s on Saturday.

He said in a correspondence from the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) dated January 13 concerning the public service vaccination workplace policy, the professionalism and credibility of health officials who care for covid patients was called into question.

It asked for the government to appoint a panel of independent experts to assess the accuracy of covid19 statistics provided by the Ministry of Health, recommending two nominees from the union, two from government and one selected by the President to be the chairman.

“All these doctors and all of them at the hospital – doctors, nurses and their support staff – I would hazard a guess that 99 per cent of them are people who have been trained, some of them paid for by the taxpayers of TT to give us world-class, expert opinions in public health care in the pandemic of 2020, 2021 and 2022.”

Dr Rowley questioned who the technical health experts were supposed to work with in a pandemic if not the government, and whose technical expertise was the government supposed to depend on for information, advice and guidance.

He said people challenging the government’s position were saying that people were dying in the hospital, not because of covid19, but as a result of inferior care.

“I do not think it is fair to these health professionals who have done for us what we never expected. We didn’t expect that because we were never really prepared for a pandemic in the way that the pandemic came upon us. We were just fortunate that we had, within our system, infrastructure and personnel to the level we have had so far. And if you think it is bad now, it would have been ten times worse had it not been for the dedication and the skill of the people who have been working with us and advising the government.

“That is why during the week I spent some time trying to find appropriate people who can go within the walls of the hospital and report back to the population what they’ve seen, what they’ve heard, what they know so that the population can be comforted that what you’re getting from the healthcare system in TT is the best that can be had.”

According to the committee’s terms of reference, it is expected to identify the profile of the patients who died from covid19, review the definition of “covid19 death” used by the Ministry of Health for consistency with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and standard practice, and comment on the different methodologies for calculating case fatality rate.

It will examine the admission, discharge and transfer policy and procedure to determine the impact, if any, on clinical outcome, and determine if the treatment and management protocols adopted by hospitals are consistent with WHO guidelines and international best practice.

It is also expected to review the standards of care of covid19 patients and identify any other factors that may affect clinical outcomes.

The committee is expected to send a report to the government and make recommendations, and the findings would be made public.

Rowley said the choices were not made in consultation with the union. He said he knew Dr Cumberbatch and Prof Miller but did not know the other three personally.

“These people, if there are people who want to denigrate them because they have been appointed by the government, all I would say is that as Prime Minister I appoint the whole Cabinet in this country. And on the same basis of logic, none of them should be in office because the Prime Minister, a politician, appoint them. We could take it to the ridiculous extreme you know.”

Rowley said the government also disagreed with other positions made by the unions, that “there is a significantly low risk of death or hospitalisation from covid19” and “we appreciate that you may have statistical data which demonstrates there is a significant risk of death or serious hospitalisation arising from covid19 infection.”

About the latter, he said some people just wanted to fight the government but the government has no intention of doing so. Rather it was doing what was necessary to protect people.

Rowley said, “Three thousand and counting and 20 dead people every day for 30-some days is not significantly low risk...

“There is a phrase that is missing from this position saying that, what they are fighting for and what they laid down for is the right of choice. I understand that, I accept that. But you know what that is also saying to the population? It’s saying, ‘Let us leave it to choice and who live, live, and who dead, dead.’ That is what is being said.

“A government in this situation cannot accept that as a response for a population in a pandemic that has already killed over 3,000 people.”

Hours before Rowley’s announcement, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar reiterated her call for a commission of enquiry into government’s healthcare management amid soaring covid19 deaths.

“When the death toll so quickly shot up to approach 600 deaths by (last) June, I was extremely concerned, particularly in light of clear governmental mismanagement and lack of action.”

She said, “I publicly called for an inquiry at that time in order to prevent us from reaching the tragic situation of over 3,100 deaths, where we find ourselves now, with no end in sight.”


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