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Multi- millions in medical mistakes - Scores of Jamaicans seek compensation for foul-ups at public-health facilities

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

Dissatisfied patients and angry employees are going to court by the dozens seeking compensation from the Ministry of Health for missteps by medical professionals and administrators.

According to documents obtained through the Access to Information (ATI), allegations of negligence on the part of hospital administrators were the basis for most of the lawsuits, with the amounts being claimed ranging from several thousand dollars to millions.

However, some persons have outlined their claims while leaving it to the courts to determine the level of compensation they should receive, making it difficult to determine the bill that could face the already cash-strapped government.

The South East Regional Health Authority, the largest grouping in the public-health sector, is listed as the first defendant in the majority of cases and the attorney general as the second defendant.

Of the more than 30 claims released by the Office of the Attorney General through the ATI, persons who had negative experiences at the Spanish Town and Victoria Jubilee hospitals filed the majority of lawsuits.

However, claims for negligence were also filed against the administrators at the Kingston Public Hospital, the University Hospital of the West Indies, the Bustamante Hospital for Children, the Cornwall Regional Hospital, Mandeville Regional Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital, among others.

In one case, filed in the Supreme Court in 2010, a teacher sued for damages, aggravated damages and special damages, among other claims, after she failed to get the body of her dead baby for burial from the St Ann's Bay Hospital.

In her lawsuit, the teacher said she tried, on several attempts, to get the body of her dead child over a two-month period in 2008; however, the hospital failed to deliver the baby and she was informed by hospital personnel that the baby's body had been incinerated.

The teacher is seeking compensation as she gave no permission for the body to be burnt.

Several of the lawsuits reviewed by our news team alleged negligence by medical personnel while performing Caesarean sections. One housewife who had a C-section performed in July 2003 at the Spanish Town Hospital claimed she had to do an emergency operation because the medical personnel left her tubes untied.

In 2010, an informal commercial importer sued the health ministry after a pair of surgical metallic forceps was reportedly left inside her body following the removal of her spleen at the Kingston Public Hospital in 1989.

The claimant said she complained to the nurses and doctors who attended to her of a sharp sticking pain in the upper abdomen/chest area following the operation; however, she was told that the pain was a normal consequence of the surgery and would subside.

The claimant complained again while receiving physiotherapy at the hospital, but despite this, was discharged from the hospital with instructions to take over-the-counter painkillers to manage the pain.


Detained at airport


It was while she was travelling to CuraÁao in 2008, where she was detained for more than two hours by immigration and police personnel at the airport after passing through a metal detector, that an X-ray showed the image of a pair of scissors embedded in her body.

This is just one of the many cases of items used by doctors during surgeries reportedly left inside patients. One cashier claimed that a laparotomy pad was left inside her after undergoing a hysterectomy in December 2005 at the Princess Margaret Hospital in St Thomas.

A portion of her colon was subsequently removed to remedy the problems caused by the pad being left in her stomach.

In another case, a 33-year-old chef of a Riverton City address filed a lawsuit after a surgery conducted at the University Hospital of the West Indies left her paralysed from the waist down.

According to that claim, the woman was healthy except she suffered from migraine headaches. On February 25, 2008, she went to the hospital to seek treatment to deal with her migraine.

After outlining her history with migraine, the woman was told she would be given a lumbar puncture (spinal tap), and after enquiring of the possible side effects from the doctor who tended to her, was informed she had nothing to worry about as the likely effects were nausea, headache, and dizziness.

The woman said she was injected several times by one doctor before another doctor joined him and also injected her.

In her claim, she said after the injections she fell asleep and woke up to find that she was unable to move her body from the waist down. She brought this to the attention of a nurse on duty, who assured her she would feel better after sleeping some more. But when she woke a second time, she found herself in the emergency room at the Kingston Public Hospital.

She is now seeking millions of dollars in compensation.