Public report on the delayed appointment of a gynaecologist/obstetrician for Vila Central Hospital – December 9, 1999 - Emalus Campus
At the end of 1993, a vacancy was created at Vila General Hospital for a gynaecologist/obstetrician (g/o). In March 1994, the British High Commission proposed the “Medical Work Force Support Project” which included funding for several doctors in Vanuatu. Included was funding for the position of a g/o at Vila Central Hospital.
In May, 1994, Mr. Yves Niowenmal was appointed as the Director of Health. The National Planning Office and the Aid Management Office both made arrangements to facilitate the position and communicated with the Department of Health. It was stressed to Mr. Niowenmal that it was the responsibility of the Vanuatu Government not the British Government to recruit the doctors.
Dr. Williams, an ex patriot employee of the Vila Central Hospital advised Mr. Niowenmal of potential dissatisfaction that would arise among other doctors due to any pay disparity between them and the doctors to be hired. This lead to consultations between the Department of Health and the their counterpoint in the Solomon Islands. No advice was forthcoming from this consultation but it did result in considerable delay. By November 3, 1994, no offer package had been prepared by the Health Department. Mrs. Kathleen Rarua, a planner at the Health Department was involved at this stage. By January 26, 1995, there was still no response from the Health Department to the National Planning Office and the Aid Management Office as to whether the Health Department wished to proceed with the proposal. The Health Department was advised that the offer from the British Government would be withdrawn if there was no response by March 31. Nothing was done by March 31 but the British Government agreed to extend the cut off date provided that doctors were recruited quickly. After three extensions, the British Government agreed to a further extension for funding for the g/o to October 30, 1995. Finally, after no doctor had been recruited by that date, the offer of funding was withdrawn by the British Government.
During September, October and November 1996 several steps were taken to recruit a g/o using local funds. Mr. Niowenmal requested that funds be taken from the Leprosy Project Fund to locally fund a g/o. In December 1996, Dr. Harish was transferred from Santo to the Vila General Hospital on the mistaken assumption that she was a qualified g/o. This error was contributed to by Mrs. Myriam Abel and Mrs. Melsul, employees of the Department of Health. Dr Harish practised as a g/o in Vila General Hospital for 2 years. The Ombudsman found that her doing so may have constituted a breach of the Health Practitioners Act.
Mr. Niowenmal was found to be incompetent by the Ombudsman. Further, Mr. Niowenmal, Mr. Kalorib (Acting Director of Health), Mr. Meil and Mrs. Rarua and Mrs. Melsul were negligent in the performance of their duties. The Ombudsman also found that Dr. Williams’ advice regarding potential dissatisfaction among existing doctors was based on irrelevant and improper motives. The actions of the entire health administrative team at the Department of Health resulted in poor medical treatment for women and possibly the increased deaths in mothers and children that occurred during the relevant time. This constituted a breach of article 5(1)(k) of the Constitution which provides protection from discrimination based on gender.
· That Mr. Niowenmal not be appointed to any responsible position in the Public Service.
· That the Public Service Commission take disciplinary actions against Mr. Mael, Ms. Rarus, Mrs. Abel and Mrs. Melsul.
· That Mr. Kalorib not hold any responsible position in the Health Department.
· That the Health Practitioners Board issue regulations of guidelines governing the practice of medical professionals.
(See also Public Report dated May 28, 1997)
Written by Edward R. Hill
UNDP Governance and Accountability Project
© Ombudsman of Vanuatu
Published here by University of the South Pacific, School of Law Web Site - www.vanuatu.usp.ac.fj