Social and political activist Oscar Allen had attempted to use the media to get the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH) to address a situation that had led to the postponement twice of an “urgent” surgical intervention that he needed.
He would die at the same hospital on July 28, a week after receiving the surgery and two weeks after he sent a letter to the hospital administrator and other senior health officials, including Minister of Health, Sen. Luke Browne about the situation at MCMH, the nation’s main healthcare facility.
The postponement of the surgery was due to the absence of one of three anaesthesiologists on staff after the other two fell ill.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who on Monday lead the glowing tribute in Parliament to the 75-year-old fallen activist, his contemporary, whom he described as ““was one of our outstanding sons”.
The prime minister said on radio on Thursday that on June 6, one of the three anaesthesiologists fell ill — “something related to a pregnancy” and on June 9, another fell ill.
This left just one anaesthesiologist at the hospital to deal with critical and elective surgeries.
“So you had one but supported by a number of nurse anaesthetists. Because of the demands, several operations which were planned had to be postponed, because if you have one anaesthesiologist, you are going to deal with emergency and critical cases,” Gonsalves said on WE FM.
In his July 14 letter to Grace Walters, hospital administrator at the MCMH, Allen said he was writing, “on what seems a trivial matter of what is in place in terms of personnel at the MCMH operating theatre.
“It troubles me because my own surgery of the large intestine has been twice postponed on consecutive weeks for the same inexcusable reason. How could there be only one anaesthesiologist available carrying the load for emergency as well as elective operations for more than 2 weeks and counting 3?”
Allen, who has spent his life championing issues affecting the poor and working class, said that the situation at the hospital was “stressful and depressing for patients who are due for surgery.
“It is also a frustrating experience for the operating theatre teams who wish to relieve the pathologies that they encounter including nurse anaesthetists who feel disempowered when they have to step back from major surgery cases. Ms. Walters, I have received and accepted the apologies of doctors who have had to turn me away and in one case, after I have been lying just waiting in an out room of the operating theatre”.
Allen said that because of the situation, he better understood “why one on my friends was surprised that I was having surgery done in SVG”.
He said that while a section of the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines “does not trust the services offered at the MCMH. I however do.
“I expect you Ms. Walters, to remedy this unacceptable deficiency of having only one anaesthesiologist available for duty at the MCMH Operating Theatre. Inattention to this problem could have fatal consequences,” Allen said.
He said he considered that his case “is urgent, as are others, and your responsibility is clear”.
In addition to the health minister, Allen copied his letter to Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, chief medical officer, and Cuthbert Knights, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and the Environment.
But after receiving no response to or acknowledgment of his letter, Allen attempted to use the media to call attention to the situation.
He submitted the letter to at least one local newspaper, saying in a cover note, “Maybe it needs a public exposure for such matters to be rectified, I therefore ask that the attached letter be printed in your newspaper.”
In his comments on Thursday, Gonsalves said that the Chief Medical Officer was seeking to get a short-term solution to the problem at MCMH.
“I told them make whatever short-term arrangements that you want to make and that those arrangements would be financed,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance.
Gonsalves said he had called Kingstown’s ambassador to Havana because the Cuban ambassador to St. Vincent is on holidays, and he asked the Vincentian envoy to ask the Cuban authorities to send Kingstown immediately one or two anaesthesiologists.
“Of course, they’d have to be able to speak English, and I’d like to have them yesterday. In other words, a matter of urgency and that is being worked on,” the prime minister said.
He said that the Minister of Health, Luke Browne “is working, too, with the Taiwanese while the CMO is continuing to see if they can get a short-term replacement out of Trinidad.
“And the governor General [of SVG], with whom I spoke on this matter, through the world paediatric contacts that he has … to see if they have anyone they can send on an emergency basis.”
Gonsalves said that he told the Chief Medical Officer that given the recent development at MCMH, four anaesthesiologists are needed “so that in the estimates, we can put another full time anaesthesiologist”.