It’s the public’s right to know
WE TAKE NO pleasure in highlighting the challenges faced by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) as we recognise such revelations can undermine confidence in the institution.
But as the only tertiary-level hospital in Barbados serving the needs of citizens from every social and economic strata, the QEH’s role is too pivotal for anything that happens there – good or unfortunate – to be ignored.
Sadly, many of the disclosures about the QEH through the years have tended to be unflattering, overshadowing the quality service provided daily by the nurses, doctors and other staffers. But the fact is, much of what is revealed is usually correct, and is often eventually substantiated, albeit reluctantly, by the institution’s management, board, Ministry of Health top brass or the minister.
The fact that sometimes the source of this information may be a disgruntled employee or political opponent doesn’t make it any less truthful, once the emotion, hyperbole or embellishment is stripped away.
This week’s disclosure about an outbreak of the pseudomonas bacteria in the Artificial Kidney Unit (dialysis unit) is such a case in point. That the information came from former Minister of Health Senator Jerome Walcott, a member of the Opposition, did not make it any less credible. Had he not aired his concerns then it was unlikely anyone in the country would have been informed of the development.
This was clear in the response of the QEH’s chief executive officer Dr Dexter James. He was reported as having said: “The fact that there is a bacteria at the hospital, what makes it so dramatic to make it a political issue that one would want to score points. I don’t see that as an issue.
“There was legionella the other day and we were able to do a number of initiatives to control it. What is so dramatic about that?”
Whether Walcott, who is a surgeon and honorary consultant at the QEH, was seeking to make political capital by revealing the outbreak was not the point. As a unit which services approximately 176 patients, the QEH had a responsibility to be proactive and inform them of the infection, and then the public.
Had the QEH management done this, there could be no question as to why they declined to mention it publicly. And Walcott, or anyone else, would not have been able to make it an issue.
Put another way, if the QEH was more forthcoming with the facts about its operations, however unpalatable, Barbadians would be better placed to appreciate its challenges and work with it. We suspect if this was done too, more Barbadians would not see the payment of user fees for basic services to contribute to the cost of their consultation and treatment as an imposition.
QEH officials need to stop being so defensive about criticism and seeing every revelation about their failings as an attempt to tear them down. Information often comes out because those who are aware of situations feel that it is the public’s right to know, and besides that, they reveal matters because once brought into the public domain they are usually dealt with urgently.