Not right to ignore patients

Editorial, Normal

The National

A six-month-old baby died in its mother’s arms while waiting for medical treatment at the Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae on Monday.
It was well past noon and mothers were told that the nurses had left their station to go for lunch. Other mothers fled the place when they realised what had happened and that it was unlikely their babies were going to be attended to.
At the same hospital two years ago, a beautiful young woman working for a non-governmental organisation called upon doctors and nurses on duty to help her.
She said she could not breathe and that she felt her lungs were “flooding”. She was left unattended and she also died. It was found at a post-mortem that she had drowned in her own fluid.
At Port Moresby General Hospital many years ago, a Catholic priest had a perfectly healthy part of his lungs sliced off by a young doctor, thinking it was an abnormal growth. The priest’s face turned blue and he basically died of asphyxiation.
At another Port Moresby private hospital more recently, a couple told their son’s doctor that they had sought a second and third opinion from other physicians. They were told they were stupid and the doctor refused to be their doctor forthwith.
What had forced the family to seek other opinions was this doctor’s inability to answer questions or to tell what the side effects would be of certain drugs he was prescribing.
It turns out from research the couple conducted on internet that the side effects of one of the drugs can be very disturbing and possibly fatal.
We are reminded of the manslaughter case unfolding in the United States presently that Michael Jackson might have died from an overdose of various drugs administered by his physician.
The above are but a few examples that come of the kind of health care system we have in PNG. There is a general disinterest, lack of care, and lack of respect for the wishes or pleas or the queries of sick people in Papua New Guinea.
We can only guess at how many patients are dying from illnesses and how many from lack of attention, care and general disinterest.
In this space, we have heralded the plight of our health services, the lack of medicine, of essential health equipment, the severe shortage of workers and their conditions. These conditions exist and contribute to the poor health services existing in PNG.
At the other end of the spectrum, there appears to be a tendency for health workers to turn in a less than professional performance while blaming the system or because patients are ignorant of their rights.
The quality of existing services at health facilities around the country is not only dismal and disappointing, sometimes we fear such attitude is killing us.
There is a cavalier attitude by some doctors and nurses, and we underline some. They think they know best and that they ought not to be questioned. This editorial, for instance, will bring quick retorts from some hot headed ones who feel we are questioning their professional competence.
Well, we are. Nobody should be dying in a hospital’s waiting room. If they must die, it should be after treatment and care and with the disease having won over all possible attempts at maintaining the person’s life.
There ought to be an investigation into all health care workers on duty at Angau Hospital on Monday between noon and 2pm and public explanations be made. If possible, those found to have been negligent on duty ought to be charged.
There used to be a time in the past in village aid posts when one orderly used to attend to every patient sitting on his clinic bench. He would do visual checks on everyone including taking temperatures by feel on the forehead. That would establish for him which patient needed immediate attention.
Then he would plant a number of thermometers under the arms of a number of the next lot he felt warranted attention. New cuts were attended to before sores. It was a crude system but it ensured that he knew immediately who needed urgent attention.
This is not done today. Every patient is expected to join a line and to wait until a nurse or doctor is available. It would be far better if a doctor or senior nurse could be out in the outpatients sizing up patients as the orderlies of old did to find out how seriously sick patients might be and to recommend and rush very sick patients for treatment.
It would help lower the number of patients dying at hospitals’ waiting rooms.