State doctors say working conditions are to blame for the death of a school boy that led to the arrest of two medics, with the government describing the connection as “most unfortunate” as the incident is under three separate investigations.
Authorities are looking into the death of 10-year-old Stavros Georgallis, who injured his head Friday morning at school while playing basketball. His mother blamed ER medics for being incompetent in diagnosing an internal head trauma promptly, which led to the arrest and remand of two state doctors in Larnaca.
An internal investigation was ordered immediately by Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou to ascertain whether any medical staff had violated any protocol during the visit in the Emergency Room at the Larnaca General Hospital.
Union doctors to go on strike
But state doctors union Pasyki say they have been warning the government that there could be deaths in public hospitals due to what they describe as very difficult working conditions and lack of staff.
The union announced it would go on a strike Wednesday morning, with Pasyki president Sotiris Koumas saying state doctors would observe a two-hour work stoppage between 10am and 12pm.
“This is to protest the working environment in the public health sector and issue a call for improving employment conditions, it’s not a financial issue as some claim,” Koumas said.
Minister says these are two separate issues
The union’s stance following Stavros’ tragic death drew a direct response from the minister who said in a written statement Monday that the union was oversimplifying the issue.
“I wish to express my sadness for the most unfortunate connection being drawn by the state doctors union between this tragic incident and the issue of understaffing in state hospitals,” Ioannou said.
The minister also pointed out the government has taken a number of measures to help doctors in state hospitals before a National Health Scheme (NHS) is implemented.
Pasyki had been at odds with the current government administration, who often called on doctors to accept administrative changes that would lead to the introduction of NHS that would improve healthcare in Cyprus as well as provide solutions to their problems.
But state medics insist that no changes would be meaningful without first securing their rights, prompting the union to condemn proposals that would reward doctors based on individual skill and actual work output instead of credentials ranked on a collective scale.
Ioannou listed in his statement a number of measures taken or began by his predecessor, which included increasing the number of doctors in state hospitals, providing monetary incentives to ER medics aimed at increasing productivity, and maintaining a budget that has been the highest since 2012.
Medical negligence allegations
During the course of the internal investigation at the health ministry, police officers arrested two doctors, 37-year-old Hercules Pandelidakis from Greece and 65-year-old Kyriacos Kyriakides from Cyprus, in connection with Stavros’ death in what is widely described as possible medical negligence.
The two doctors are facing charges of gross medical negligence, following a decision to discharge the boy into his mother’s care without ever consulting with the radiologist on duty.
Kyriakides reportedly told officers he made no medical decision in the boy’s case but was simply asked by his colleague to view the X-Ray. It is unclear whether Kyriakides concurred with Pandelidakis, but both doctors are said to have determined there had been no signs of internal damage of the inner ear following an otoscopic examination.
The boy, who was at home an hour later with his mother, told her he was having pain and she noticed he was starting to become less aware of his surroundings. She and a friend rushed the boy back to the ER and it was determined that the boy needed emergency surgery and had to be transported to Nicosia General Hospital.
His mother, who is also a registered nurse, said they lost Stavros en route to Nicosia, adding that she believed doctors failed to provide proper care during their first visit. She said doctors examined her son for about 25 minutes and performed an X-Ray, but when she asked whether they would also perform a CT scan, she was told no.
“Are we going to perform a CT scan for every person that falls down?” one of the doctors asked according to the mother, who later remarked a CT was performed during their second ER visit.
Apart from the police investigation and the health ministry probe, it was announced Monday that the education ministry is also looking into the matter. Critics had raised issues regarding the hard concrete surface of the basketball court but also general questions regarding first aid response and school protocols.
In Stavros’ case, the Alethriko Elementary School in Larnaca district had called his mother to inform her of her son’s injury. She reportedly picked him up and went straight to the hospital.
Calls for a special task force
The Cyprus Medical Association spoke out against the arrest of the two doctors, saying there was no need for them to be handcuffed, while saying the investigation ought to go forward and those responsible be held accountable.
Vassos Economou, the head of the CMA's ethics committee, went on television to say that medical errors are part of doctors' work and could be different from any possible medical negligence.
But he declined to comment on the specific case, except to reiterate his position that there is a need in Cyprus for a special committee, with legal and medical experts, who could examine such cases in a timely manner.