It appears the Andrew Holness-led Government may be facing its own dead babies scandal after Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton admitted Wednesday that a number of babies had died at Victoria Jubilee Hospital following an outbreak of resistant bacteria during the summer.
According to Nationwide News, Tufton’s Health and Wellness Ministry had to turn to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for help. However, while that was happening and babies were reportedly dying, the public was kept in the dark.
Tufton told the radio station on Wednesday evening that a shortage of nurses could have led to the outbreak, while disputing the number of babies that died.
“The insinuation that somehow dozens of babies have died is not the information that I have, but every death is regrettable and so it is not an excuse. We have the problem and we have some challenges in dealing with it, but we are dealing with it,” Tufton said.
He also disclosed that the ratio of nurses to babies in the neonatal intensive care unit should be one nurse to two babies. The critical nursing shortage facing Jamaica has upended these numbers.
“We’re now at one [nurse] to seven [babies] and sometimes more. And it does create a challenge for infection prevention and control,” Tufton said.
Deaths as a result of resistant bacteria were reportedly recorded in the summer months. Both healthy and sick babies were said to be affected, so, too, mothers who returned to the hospital for post-natal checks-ups.
As suggested by Tufton, the situation was blamed on a breakdown in infection controls at Victoria Jubilee Hospital. Despite their best efforts, the staff was reportedly unable to bring the situation under control resulting in the health ministry turning to PAHO for help.
The PAHO team also reportedly visited Bustamante Hospital for Children.
In 2015, a so-called dead babies scandal rocked the then Government of Portia Simpson Miller, resulting in the Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, being relieved of the portfolio and sent to the Ministry of Labour.
It was revealed in October that year that 18 preterm babies had died at the University Hospital of the West Indies and Cornwall Regional Hospital following an infectious outbreakcaused by the bacteria klebsiella and serratia.
The calls for Ferguson’s head, which he had initially dismissed as being politically motivated, mounted after he suggested that the preterms were not babies in the real sense.