Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Editorial: Ferguson’s whingeing Praetorian Guards

Published:Thursday | November 5, 2015 | 11:00 AM
Dr Ferguson is under pressure over the outbreak of klebsiella and serratia bacteria at the neonatal units of two of Jamaica's top hospitals, to which the health ministry attributed the deaths of 19 preterm babies

When presumably rational people do irrational things, look for the motive, which, when viewed from their narrow perspectives, may not be irrational after all.

So, there is likely to be some explanation for why Calvin Brown, Andrei Cook, Leon Gordon, and Michael Stewart have rallied themselves into a Praetorian Guard around Fenton Ferguson, the health minister. Its immediate logic, unfortunately, is not easily discerned from the public statement issued on behalf of these chairmen of the four regional health authorities, which they have not disclaimed.

At best, it seems a clumsy attempt by people caught in a chimera to provide Dr Ferguson with political cover.

Dr Ferguson is under pressure over the outbreak of klebsiella and serratia bacteria at the neonatal units of two of Jamaica's top hospitals, to which the health ministry attributed the deaths of 19 preterm babies. Much of the quarrel was turned on when the health minister came to know of the crisis and what action he took when he became aware.

By Dr Ferguson's admission, he knew of the outbreaks - a not uncommon feature in health-care facilities - in October with everyone else when it became public knowledge via the media. But Trevor McCartney, the now-resigned chief medical officer of the University Hospital of the West Indies where the outbreaks started in June, says he reported the matter to the health ministry in early September, whose chief medical officer, Marion Bullock Ducasse, took a fortnight to respond.

Dr Bullock Ducasse claims that she didn't bring the matter to the attention of Ferguson. And she didn't respond with urgency because the indication was that she was being informed about a pacified situation rather than an ongoing problem.

Dr McCartney now disputes Dr Bullock Ducasse's claim about the scope of his notification, and says that he resigned because of the attempt by his board to have the University Hospital take the blame for a supposed reporting lapse, so as to remove the pressure from the health ministry.

As the minister, the ultimate responsibility for developments in the public-health system rests with Dr Ferguson, in whom there is diminished trust because of his perceived mishandling of other crises. Neither does it help Dr Ferguson's cause that he fails to articulate with clarity and that he is not one for transparency - like his decision to make public the report of a public-health audit that might have highlighted the exacerbated predisposition of public hospitals to bacterial outbreaks because of a shortage of resources.

 

matters for public discourse

 

All of these are relevant matters for public discourse and debate. It is one of the ways in which democracies refine public policy and ensure its most efficacious implementation. It is one way, too, of ensuring public officials are held to account.

It is one thing for Dr Ferguson's Praetorian guards to declare confidence in the Scipio and adorn him with halos for supposedly "working tirelessly to deliver quality health care", but it is another to want to short-circuit public discourse and dissent over his performance. But then, that's what Praetorian guards do. And in this case, more.

For this version also sounds like whingeing, sycophantic public relations minders with their declaration that "these attacks, notwithstanding, the minister is undaunted" in pursuing his job. They may all just hug and cry.