Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Editorial | Embrace clarity on new baby deaths

Published:Tuesday | November 1, 2016 | 11:00 AM

Maybe it is that health-care professionals, and those in the public bureaucracy to whom they report, neither speak nor write with clarity, or, in the face of perceived public or political pressure, are incapable of reconciling data and other information shared among themselves.

That much was obvious last year when the then health minister, Fenton Ferguson, and his senior technocrats, in their failure at plain speaking and frankness, elevated the chik-V and dead-baby issues from difficult public-health hiccups into major scandals that cost Dr Ferguson his job and contributed to the defeat of the People's National Party (PNP) Government.

The current lot at the health ministry, led by the minister, Christopher Tufton, appear headed towards the Ferguson syndrome, in which event they should halt, take a deep breath, and begin a new conversation with the public over the current controversy over the number of babies who have died at the Victoria Jubilee maternity hospital from complications related to the Group B Streptococcus (GBS). Ascribing irresponsibility to the press, particularly this newspaper, is not of itself exculpatory of public officials.

The genesis of this issue is our report, three weeks ago, of the deaths in August and September of seven babies at Victoria Jubilee from GB Streptococcus, which elicited a review, by Dr Tufton, of the matter, which, some of his officials had already at least partially confirmed. Dr Tufton's team of medical bureaucrats insisted that only four babies died, and made clear that unlike when 17 babies succumbed to serratia and klebsiella bacteria last year, they were victims not of infections contracted in the hospital, but from their mothers.

That might have been the end of that, but for the surfacing of a report on the matter, produced by Victoria Jubilee officials, whose language and data, by normal use and interpretation, appear to place it at odds with the official statement by the health ministry and upon which this newspaper reported.

 

CURRENT ISSUES

 

Having outlined the broad history of a number of patients, it has this heading: 'Current issues'. Then it goes on:

"1. Increase in the number of infants diagnosed with GBS and a significant increase in the number of infants dying of it.

a. 10 deaths in August - 60% occurring in VLBW (very low birthweight) infants.

b. 16 deaths thus far in Sept - 60% occurring in infants 2.5kg!!! - suspected sepsis cases ... HIE (hospital infections) is not the culprit this time!"

The report goes on to discuss the lack of information on the microbe profile of the delivery/operating suites and neonatal care unit at Victoria Jubilee, as well as the unknown GBS status "of mothers delivering at VJH especially".

The foregoing suggests that more than four babies died from GBS at Victoria Jubilee in August and September, rather than an overall 29 neonatal deaths at the institution during the period, as its senior medical officer, Dr Orville Morgan, and Philip Armstrong, the chairman of the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), say is the case. The monthly numbers in Dr Tufton's report would be below the mean average for August and September and the standard deviation for the previous five years.

Dr Morgan and Mr Armstrong may well be right in their joint declaration. But that is best proven by a clear, rational explanation of the perceived discrepancies in the two reports, not by attacking those who point them out.