Dr Sandra Williams-Phillips fought them and won
NEVER let it be said that it is an easy task to take on the 'establishment' full frontal and win the battle, but that is what consultant congenital cardiologist Dr Sandra Williams-Phillips did when on March 11 she won a $4.3 million defamation of character lawsuit against the Bustamante Hospital for Children (BHC) in the Supreme Court.
In early 2010, Dr Williams-Phillips, whose mantra is 'place the children first' and who is easily among the most qualified and accomplished medical professionals in her speciality, was not just fired from the BHC, but a message was placed on sections of walls on the compound stating that she is not allowed entry. In other words, she was made persona non grata by the administrative body there.
Following that, an injunction was filed to bar her from entering the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI). In 2010, the Ministry of Labour ruled that she should be reinstated, but that did not stop the administrators from having their way.
In 2010, she filed suit for wrongful dismissal from BHC and UHWI, and that is still in the courts. A year ago, she filed suit for defamation of character, having changed lawyers in August 2013 and brought on board Oliver Smith and Hugh Wildman who brought the matter to a well-deserved win for the medical professional.
In her attempts to get justice for herself and to stand up to the very powerful people making up the administrative bodies of the medical profession in Jamaica, Dr Williams-Phillips reached out to the journalistic community, but even there she was rejected with one well know journalist simply telling her, "Don't send me any more emails. I do not want to hear anymore from you."
"Mark, it was always about the children, mostly poor, who I believed needed all the assistance that human beings deserved," said Dr Williams-Phillips.
As a consultant congenital paediatric, adolescent and adult cardiologist who relied on referrals from other doctors, Dr Williams-Phillips was, in essence, being starved out of her profession. In the four years since 2010 she lost her house and her car, but throughout she pressed on, fully believing that if she maintained her focus on doing what was right, especially for the children, the truth and justice would eventually prevail.
But who is this Jamaican woman?
She holds membership in the various professional bodies, among them the Canadian Cardiovascular Society (first Jamaican to get this membership), Canadian Paediatric Cardiology Association (first Jamaican), American Heart Association, American Society of Echocardiography, British Society of Echocardiography (since 1995. First and only Jamaican), European Society of Cardiology, Chevening Scholar Alumni, Paediatric Association of Jamaica, and the Medical Association of Jamaica.
Just recently she received the following news: 'We are pleased to announce that you have been recognised for your professional achievements and have been elected as Fellow of the European Society of Cardiology (FESC).' Dr Williams-Phillips also earned this designation and membership with 'scientific excellence'.
The question is, why would our medical administrators turn their backs on someone so eminently qualified and accomplished? That the protagonists could not mount a defence in the recently concluded case spoke volumes.
And I ought to add, this Jamaican medical professional is from a very large family where her father was highly 'productive', in the process, producing 15 doctors! Yes, in Jamaica we produce more than just world-beating foot racers, reggae icons and infamous deejays.
Dr Williams- Phillips is only one of eight in the Caribbean to have membership in FESC and is the only Caribbean national to have been given the 'Scientific Excellence' designation.
In the four years that she was being 'starved out', she published 13 manuscripts as sole author. This is a first in the history for UWI/UHWI! She has published in European Medical Journal Cardiology inaugural issue, Congenital Cardiology Today USA, Japanese Journal in Press for 2014 and in other European journals. She is now on the European Medical Journal website -- another first for UWI/UHWI.
As if that is not enough for this brilliant daughter of Jamaica, she is also a reviewer for the European Medical Journal (UK), Paediatric Cardiology (USA), Case Reports in Internal Medicine (Canada) and Journal of Postgraduate Medicine (Europe).
Again, this nagging question keeps popping up -- what did Dr Sandra Williams-Phillips do to have so earned the wrath of the administrators at BHC and UHWI?
Questions to Dr John Hall remain unanswered
On February 13 I wrote a column headlined, 'Do you trust your doctor?' in which I asked the following in relation to Abigail Hyman, late of Marymount High School. Some readers will recall that the 16-year-old child fell ill while at school and died.
It is my understanding that the child died of a congenital heart problem.
The questions I had asked in the column were:
1. Abigail only had 16 years on this earth and the death of one so young is never easy to deal with. Considering that most 16-year-old children are healthy and are running up and down all over the school yard, did Abigail at anytime in her short life display any signs to indicate that she was unwell?
2. If the answer to (1) is 'no', then one could conclude that her death was totally unexpected. If the answer to (1) is 'yes', how old was she when the signs were displayed?
3. If signs of illness were indeed displayed, was she first seen by a private doctor or was she taken to a public facility such as a clinic or a hospital?
4. If she was seen by a private doctor, what was she diagnosed with and the action taken?
5. If she was taken to a public facility, what was she diagnosed with and the action taken?
6. If she was taken to a public facility, as would be the likely case if she had shown signs of illness, what was her age at the time?
7. If she was taken to a public facility, were there any major differences of opinion between specialists as to the course of action that should be taken and what was the outcome of that?
On February 18, 2014 I emailed chairman of the Medical Council of Jamaica, Dr John Hall, the following but he has not responded:
'As head of the medical council I was impressed by your recent tough talk re reports of failing health standards in the public health system and you imploring medical professionals to generally keep up-to-date on the specific areas as would be expected where something new and innovative is being added almost on an exponential basis.
'Last Thursday I wrote a piece in the Observer where I mentioned your intervention plus I also highlighted the death of a young girl, Abigail Hyman, 16 years old, who collapsed at Mary Mount High School in January.
'It is my understanding that prior to reaching adolescent age she had been in the care of the public health system (PHS).
'Would you please confirm this one way or another and, if she was in the care of the PHS could you inform me as to what took place during her stay.
'I do not expect you to give me chapter and verse because that would be an obvious breach of the confidential nature of doctor/patient relationship. I just want to know if she was there, what were the dates, what condition was she diagnosed with and the general treatment routine that was followed. A response or a non-response from you will still be a response, although I would prefer your professional response.'
Well, the good doctor has opted for a non-response.
Here are some further questions.
Was Abigail Hyman admitted at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in 2009, and was she at any time listed by any medical professional as 'inoperable?'
Did some other medical professional loudly protest this 'inoperable' designation and what happened after that?
Have any other children who were so labelled secured operations, and did they go on at age 18 to snatch multiple passes at CXC and CAPE?
Just questions, Dr Hall. Just questions.