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Patients in need

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Tennyson Springer, UWI Researcher, Dr. Carmen Hutchinson-Miller and Haemotologist, Dr. Cheryl Alexis at today’s World Sickle Cell Day ceremony

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Tennyson Springer, UWI Researcher, Dr. Carmen Hutchinson-Miller and Haemotologist, Dr. Cheryl Alexis at today’s World Sickle Cell Day ceremony

Some sickle cell patients in Barbados are overdosing themselves to death.

Relating what she described as horror stories of patients who sought treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, President of the Hope Foundation, Shelly Weir, disclosed this morning that about three to four persons have so far died from overdosing on the medication, Pethidine.

“One of the things that got me going, was when one of our patients went to A&E and was told she was neither accident nor emergency and had to wait her turn,” Weir recalled while speaking during a ceremony at the Amaryllis Hotel in Hastings, Christ Church to mark World Sickle Cell Day today.

“So we did our own informal investigation and realised that patients were waiting for as long as 14 to 16 hours without being seen in excruciating pain, and some of them opted to, in their own words, if they were going to die, they would prefer to go home and die,” she declared.

“But then they got quite creative and started to exchange medications among themselves, forge prescriptions, inject themselves with the Pethidine, dissolved and so on, and it became a major issue.”

Weir reported that “we have had around three or four deaths, … the persons who would have overdosed the Pethidine. Now, because of the complaints of persons [about] … the treatment at the hospital and so on, we adopted

the approach used by Jamaica, where they have this medical day unit, where ‘sicklers’ know that they can go directly; they are seen immediately and treated effectively”.

She suggested that the other problem the Hope Foundation would have had, was that the pain management protocol A&E, seemed to change according to who was head of that department at the particular time.

“So we wanted that consistency and based on the remarks that some of the patients would have said and the discrimination really, that would have come over (from health care professionals) … ‘You again?’, and ‘You only want the medication!’.

She told Barbados TODAY her organisation was made to understand that the health care professionals were not treating the pain effectively.

“They (health care providers) were concerned about the addiction, which we believe should be treated secondarily…, but treat the pain first. So they would treat the pain moderately; send the patients home before they were actually comfortable and then they reappear in A&E again in a couple hours or by the next day,” lamented the social services practitioner.

She observed that because the patients kept returning to the hospital so often, they were told they were addicts seeking. Weir is of the view that the proposed medical day unit, which her Foundation had mooted since 2001, a lot of these challenges would be taken care of.

She said he believed that unit was likely to become operational by the end of this year. However, Weir said she was unsure of how soon another critical proposal — a dedicated new born screening system for sickle cell — would be implemented.

“There is a lack of compassion on the part of health care professionals; and I think that we need to go back to the basics,” she concluded. (EJ)

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