Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Parents can take legal action – attorneys

Published:Wednesday | October 21, 2015 | 10:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham

Two of the country's attorneys-at-law believe the parents of the babies who died or were infected with the klebsiella and serratia bacteria at two major public hospitals since June could take legal action against the relevant authorities. And one mother is already contemplating a lawsuit.

Yesterday, Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson revealed that because of four infectious outbreaks at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in St Andrew and the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) in St James in the last five months, 42 newborns were infected with the bacteria, 18 of whom have died.

THIS IS RIDICULOUS

One mother, whose son was born two months ago at the UHWI and died last Thursday after being infected with klebsiella, told The Gleaner that she was seeking legal action "because this is ridiculous".

"The morning when he died, they took me in a room, and based on how I saw the doctors and nurses behaving and being there for so many weeks and seeing so many babies die, I knew it was the end," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"When they told me he died, I asked, 'How? Why?' They said he had gotten an infection and they weren't able to stabilise and treat him. They basically said they were trying their best to contain it - that this isn't something new. This is something that we as mothers knew. And this is without them telling us that there was an infection on the ward and they were trying to contain it. They just said they were sorry."

She continued, "I knew nothing of this infection on the ward before I went there. While I was there, and the babies around me, including my child, were getting sick, I and other mothers realised that something was going around. At no point in time anyone told us there was an infection going around, and it was contagious, or anything, or that it was serious. We had no idea that our children could die because of this."

ALARMING

Describing the situation as alarming, attorney Patrick Foster said bacteria infections occured all the time in hospitals, "however, the question is whether the hospitals took sufficient precautions to minimise the spread of these infections, particularly to premature babies, who would have been most vulnerable."

He added: "There should have been duty of care, but it depends on the particular facts as to whether or not this duty of care in law was breached. And since at this stage we don't have all the facts, it would be hard to give a definite opinion at this time.

"Following the investigations, if the facts show that there was negligence on the part of the hospital authorities, then the parents could file claims against the regional hospital authorities that have legal responsibility and management control for the hospitals that fall within their jurisdictions."

Fellow attorney Bert Samuels concurred with his colleague.

"The loss of a life is irreplaceable, and this is a very serious thing that has happened. The fact that the numbers are more than two suggests that maybe the situation ought to have been arrested earlier, but then I can't make pronouncements at this stage without knowing the facts," Samuels said.

"Hospitals must always show due care. If there is an absence of due care, that is, the standards falling below what is accepted in the medical practice, then there can be liability."

Both attorneys said like the rest of the country, they anxiously await the findings of the investigation.

"The findings of the investigation would determine if there is a case for a lawsuit," Samuels noted.

Ferguson, who said he only learnt of the situation on Friday, assembled a team to conduct an investigation and provide guidelines for case management. This includes assistance from overseas consultants who should arrive in the island today.

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com