Deyalsingh: No room for external expert in probe into babies’ deaths

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh –

THERE is no room on the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA’s) committee investigating the deaths of babies at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the Port of Spain General Hospital (PoSGH) for an expert who represents their parents.

So said Minister Terrence Deyalsingh in reply to a question from Opposition Senator Wade Mark in the Senate on April 22.

The babies died at the NICU between April 4 and 9 from a bacterial infection.

After reiterating his condolences to the babies’ families, Deyalsingh said the NWRHA’s internal investigation is proceeding in accordance with established practice.

On the call by the babies’ parents for an expert representing them to be part of the investigation, Deyalsingh said he has been told there is “no room for external participation.”

Mark asked what was the established practice in matters such as this.

Deyalsingh said it was for investigations to be done internally.

The call for an independent expert representing the babies’ parents was contained in a pre-action protocol letter dated April 20 from Freedom Law Chambers to NWRHA CEO Anthony Blake. The letter was signed by attorney Sue Ann Deosaran.

She noted the NWRHA’s decision last week to send the head of its Infection Prevention and Control Unit, Dr Darrel Jones, on administrative leave.

“Our clients consider this belated move to be nothing more than a token gesture that came as a result of mounting public pressure due to public outrage and anger.”

Deosaran also said it was obvious certain people should have been suspended immediately the investigation was announced.

She claimed, “Instead…the main protagonists were all allowed to remain on duty whilst the medical notes were being suppressed thereby providing them with access, opportunity and motive to fraudulently tamper with these records before the investigation could even start.”

While Blake has publicly said there will be a transparent, fair and independent investigation, Deosaran responded, “This is precisely why our clients do not consider that this a genuine and meaningful attempt.”

She claimed the NWRHA has hinted there could be further suspensions, while staff have been approached by their superiors “with a view to pressuring and influencing them to sing from the same hymnbook in giving statements to the investigators.”

Some of these concerned members of staff, she wrote, “have reached out to certain persons because they fear they will be victimised and oppressed if they speak the truth.”

She expressed concern that the NWRHA seemed to be conveniently sidestepping issues in the hope they would go away.

Deosaran said parents had not been consulted about the proposed investigation into their babies’ deaths.

This, she continued, includes the time frame for the investigation, its terms and reference and a commitment to make the final report public.

Against this background, she said, “They wish to have an independent expert of their own in the control of infectious diseases appointed as part of the investigating team at the cost of the NWRHA. “

The NWRHA was asked to give its position on this request.