3 Dec 2015

Leaning toward institutional failings

It is hard not to empathise with Shelly Ann Cottle whose baby died during delivery almost two years ago at the Mount Hope Women’s Hospital.

Baby Simeon’s death caused national uproar when it was revealed that his head had been cut from ear to ear. Now with the Medical Board saying that it has cleared Dr Javed Chinnia, the doctor who performed the Caesarean, the grieving mother has been left still searching for an answer to her questions about justice for her son and herself.

The case assumes a certain surreal tone given that Ms Cottle and her husband are yet to find compensatory closure having elected to seek justice through the court after declining the hospital’s offer of $215,000 for the loss of the child and associated distress. Contrast this with the more than $1.5 million that has already been paid out by the State to the commission hired to investigate Baby Simeon’s death. Throughout it all, the doctor at the centre of the tragedy, Dr Chinnia, remained on full pay after being ordered on leave.

Interestingly, news has broken of the Medical Board’s decision as Ms Cottle’s legal challenge begins to make its way through the court. Yesterday, Justice Robin Mohammed granted her request to be identified as her baby’s legal representative which now enables her to take legal action against Dr Chinnia and the North West Regional Health Authority.

Responding to the Medical Board’s decision to clear Dr Chinnia, Ms Cottle is demanding an explanation from the board. Indeed, without prejudice to Dr Chinnia, all of Trinidad and Tobago would like to know the basis of the board’s decision, especially in light of the statement of then attorney general Anand Ramlogan who had told the media that the report veered clearly towards “negligence” on the part of the doctors and the institution that managed Baby Simeon. Presumably, Mr Ramlogan spoke after having had sight of the report.

What makes the board’s decision intriguing, however, is the position articulated over the weekend by the treasurer of the Medical Board, Dr Varma Deyalsingh, that the board’s authority extends only to matters of professional misconduct and not to matters involving possible malpractice and negligence. This raises the question of what exactly has Dr Chinnia been cleared of by the Medical Board. In the interest of public understanding the Medical Board needs to disclose much more on its decision. Indeed, having taken the step to say that it has cleared Dr Chinnia, it is incumbent to disclose its full findings in the public interest.

In addition, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) before whom the commission’s report has been pending since 2014 should also update the public on the status of the investigation.

Meanwhile, the continuing tragedy of babies and mothers dying in childbirth poses major challenges for Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh who has found himself behind the curve with one incident after another. His decision to accept a number of recommendations from a review team, including the presence of specialists for critical maternal cases would indeed be a step in the right move if it did not include the caveat of “where staffing levels support this”.


It’s difficult to take in this Express editorial. The glaring inconsistencies of the Medical Board’s position with the end result… a baby’s head sliced open from ear to ear… seem to be at odds. No doubt, it will be passed off as ‘an institutional, or systematic failing’. Once more, it wasn’t the system or institution wielding the scalpel, and I wonder at the type of thinking that passes for logic on the Rock.