'There was no outbreak' -- Public Defender's report clears hospital staff, challenges media on dead babies issue
A report by the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) has concluded that the eight premature babies who died in separate infectious incidents at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in June last year were the "unfortunate victims of an under-resourced medical facility".
In fact, the report, which was released yesterday, said there was no evidence that the babies were infected with Serratia and Klebsiella because of medical negligence on the part of hospital employees, and even disputed media reports that there was an outbreak.
"There is no evidence of medical negligence on the part of the hospital staff which led to the infection of the preterm babies with Serratia marcescens and Klebsiella. Neither was there any evidence of medical negligence on the part of hospital staff in the treatment, care and management of the preterm babies who passed," the report said.
"The premature babies, who were particularly susceptible to infections, became the unfortunate victims of an under-resourced medical facility," it added.
The OPD, which crafted the report after an investigation that included interviews with top hospital administrators at the time, said it "appears from the evidence that the concept of an outbreak was purely a media creation".
"There was no outbreak at the Neonatal Unit between June and October 2015. That which transpired was not unusual and the infectious happenings were part of the hazards of low birth weight, undeveloped organs and immune systems and the hospital environment," the report said, noting that seven preterm babies died from the infections in separate incidents in October 2011 and December 2013.
Last year, 19 preterm babies died at the UHWI and the Cornwall Regional Hospital as a result of Serratia and Klebsiella infections. Amid public outrage over the handling of the outbreak by the then People's National Party administration, former Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson was relieved of his responsibility for the portfolio.
Detected in June 2015
The OPD said its investigation found that the Serratia outbreak was first detected in June 2015 in the hospital's special care nursery. "By the 12th of June 2015, three cases were identified in babies. All three pre-term babies were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit," the report said.
The agency said that by June 25, Dr Mathias Antione, a consultant paediatrician and head of the department of child health, brought the issue to the attention of Professor Trevor McCartney, medical chief of staff at the UHWI.
The OPD said McCartney asserted that there was no requirement for the UHWI to report the incidents to the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department because they were not Class 1 or Class 2 reportable "organisms", such as dengue or malaria.
Instead, according to the report, the hospital quickly implemented its infection-control measures, which included a "thorough cleaning" of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and "deep cleaning" of the Special Care Nursery".
The report noted that other measures, such as the isolation of infected babies and the cessation of admissions to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, were also implemented, and by mid-September the outbreak was under control.
The OPD said around the same time, the Klebsiella infection was detected. However, the agency said McCartney reported that this was eradicated about a month later.
"The staff at the Special Care Nursery and at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit performed their duties with skill and diligence and acted reasonably and responsibly, particularly under the prevailing circumstances," the report said.