Kamla: Neonatal deaths could have been prevented

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Kamla Persad-Bissessar –

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar believes the neonatal deaths at the Port of Spain General Hospital (PoSGH) could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had heeded previous warnings and fired his Health Minister.

On the third leg of the debate on a private members’ motion to force the Government to improve the health-care system on Friday, Persad-Bissessar said the Opposition brought four motions, including the present one, since 2018 on inadequacies in the health-care system; in 2018, 2021, 2023 and now 2024.

She also cited several media reports highlighting such issues. She said the fiasco could have been prevented if Dr Rowley had paid heed to them.

“These pleas have been ignored persistently by a callus, dismissive Prime Minister, and look at what that indifference from the Prime Minister and his government has caused today. Look at the headlines that confront our nation,” she said.

“For the past two weeks, the nation has been traumatised, horrified and left baffled as day by day more and more parents emerge in the public domain confirming that, to date, 18 babies have died and most of it happened between the period April 4 to 7, 2024. It is a tragedy of unparalleled proportions.”

News broke on April 12 that seven babies, confirmed by the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA), died from sepsis at the PoSGH’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) between April 4 and 9. Laboratory tests detected the presence of three dangerous bacterium, Serratia marcesens, ESBL Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Klebsiella aerogenes.

While media reports earlier this week suggest there were 18 fatalities at the PoSGH NICU, that was over a protracted period beginning in August 2022 as families came forward to join in a class action lawsuit against the NWRHA.

Persad-Bissessar reiterated the role the Couva Children’s Hospital (now the Couva Medical and Multi-training Facility) could have played in helping treat the neonates.

Rubbishing recent claims by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh that the hospital did not have NICU capability, she said a Public Accounts and Appropriation Committee report and site visit laid in parliament in 2016 showed it was outfitted with the necessary equipment. Questioning where it all went, the opposition leader suggested it was transferred to another facility. She quoted a post on X.com from May 1, 2019, which stated: “The Wendy Fitzwilliam Hospital will receive all equipment related to child care from the Couva Facility.”

“So when you come to tell us the equipment not there, it’s because you move it!” she said.

As further evidence, she presented a letter dated July 22, 2019, from the then Urban Development Corporation of TT (Udecott) acting chief executive officer to the Health Ministry and North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) officials. It was titled: “List of paediatric furniture and equipment at the Couva Hospital for transfer to the NCRHA.”

In it, she said was a 133-page enclosure listing all the items which included NICU and maternity equipment.

Persad-Bissessar renewed her call for Rowley to remove Deyalsingh from his ministership.

The NICU deaths between April 4 and 9 at PoSGH have been under an internal investigation by the NWRHA and an independent inquiry by a team from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).

In a statement on Friday afternoon, the Health Ministry said the PAHO team concluded its debriefing exercise between April 22 and 26. It said the investigation continued and a final report would be given to the ministry.