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Health ministry stands firm on babies deaths from GBS - 112 neonatal deaths at Victoria Jubilee up to September

Published:Sunday | November 20, 2016 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Phillip Armstrong
Victoria Jubilee Hospital
Victoria Jubilee Hospital

The Ministry of Health said although there were 112 neonatal deaths at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital (VJH) between January and September of this year, it is satisfied that based on investigation, only four of those died from Group B Streptococcal (GBS) infection.

Phillip Armstrong, chairman of the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), told The Sunday Gleaner that while all the deaths were regrettable, the total number of infant mortality since the start of the year was not alarming, as it was within normal international rate. He added that he was also satisfied that, based on an in-depth investigation, no more newborns had died from GBS than the four that were previously reported by the ministry.

The controversy surrounding the exact number of neonates who had died at VJH had been an ongoing issue since The Sunday Gleaner first broke the story on October 9. Following an investigation, a press conference was held where an official report was released by the health ministry stating that only four babies had died since the start of the year from GBS.

Subsequently, however, an anonymous source sent a report prepared by a VJH official to The Sunday Gleaner, which contradicted the ministry's official report. The newspaper's story headlined 'Somebody lied, 26 babies died' on October 30 further added to the controversy, and forced the ministry to investigate deeper. The story stated that 26 babies had died at the institution between August and September, after contracting GBS infection from their mothers during vaginal delivery, which was outlined in the report we had received.


Clarifying the issue


Following that, the health ministry offered a number of explanations on the matter, admitting that 29 babies had in fact died during the aforementioned two-month period, but the majority of those deaths were not caused by GBS infections. The ministry still maintains that only four babies died from GBS.

Armstrong said following a meeting with the doctor who had prepared the VJH report that was the basis of the Sunday Gleaner story, another report was submitted clarifying the issue.

Noting that the leaked report was only intended for internal discussion, Armstrong said that the doctor stated, "The document entitled 'Group B Streptococcal disease in the newborns at the NCU, VJH for September 2016 - Firm B' was prepared by myself in preparation for an emergency internal senior staff meeting that was held on September 28, 2016 in response to an outbreak of GBS noted in September 2016 at the Neonatal Care Unit (NCU).

"The pages entitled 'Current Issues' and the subsequent page discussing 'Medical Management' were my medical opinions that were formulated using my paediatric technical expertise in highlighting a paradigm shift in the underlying causes leading to the deaths of infants in August and September. It was my opinion at the time that the majority of infants that had died in August were very premature infants and that prematurity and its complications were the reasons for their deaths, as opposed to September, where it was my opinion that the majority of babies that died were larger, term infants who based on their clinical presentation to the NCU and their clinical progress were likely to have died in part from presumed or suspected sepsis cases. The numbers quoted were the total number of neonatal deaths per month and NOT deaths attributed to GBS alone."

Following the doctor's statement, the Ministry of Health said it was now satisfied with the outcome of the investigation into the matter, and that it will continue to strive to be transparent and accountable to the public and all stakeholders, including the media.

"It is not a hidden fact that the public-health system has many challenges; however, we hope that this issue, which has now been clarified, will restore confidence in the public-health system, particularly the VJH. I want to once again reaffirm the commitment of the Ministry of Health to the improvement of the health sector through transparency and accountability," stated Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton.