Why do avoidable deaths occur? - Solomon Star News

Why do avoidable deaths occur?

25 March 2014

THE remarks below were made by an Australian Judge Justice Stephen Pallaras, who had been serving in the country. These were remarks made in relation to a murder case he judged. This is the observation he made in relation to deaths and service provided by the National Referral Hospital.

I have been fortunate to have been in this beautiful country for almost 12 years.  During that time sadly, I have presided over many murder cases in which young men have lost their lives as a result of a culture amongst the young of resolving disputes through violence.

Sociologists and psychologists could no doubt tell us what the reasons are for this tragic phenomenon which plays out daily in our community.  I would certainly not presume to speak as an expert but simply as an observer.  There are those far more qualified than me who should, but don’t explain to the community why this is happening and more importantly what they are doing about it.

In this case (See separate story page 3) yet another young man has lost his life because a gang of wanna’be tough guys, which simply another way of describing cowards, thought that the best way of showing just how brave they were was to attack people with stones, sticks, bottles and rocks at night.  People who were trying to make a living at a market store in Henderson. They fell upon these people like an uncontrollable pack of dogs and their actions have left another young man dead and another family grieving.

The causes of this violence are for others to address and resolve, but is anyone doing this?  I’ve not seen a lot of evidence that anyone is.

But it is not to the cause of deadly violence that I address these remarks.  It is to the cause of the death.

Many of the murder cases I have presided over in this country have been as a result of the victim dying from injuries that in most other countries would have been survivable.

Victims have typically presented with bleeding injuries to the head and either unconscious or disoriented.  They are most often dealt with, as they were in this case, by stitching up the wound, administering some analgesics, a short period of observation and sending the victim home.

What then so often happens in my experience is that the victim dies a day or two later after being released from care, usually as a result of bleeding into the brain caused often by fractures to his skull, which were not diagnosed or detected when he first received treatment.

The deceased in this case was under medical care at the National Referral Hospital on the 15th August 2012, given four stitches, sent home, and was dead by the 19th August.

When a victim of a serious assault presents with head injuries and those other symptoms I’ve mentioned, I am not a doctor, but common sense would indicate that at the very least, x-rays of the skulls should be taken to determine the extent of any unseen internal injuries.  In so many cases in the provinces this has not been done and the victim has died from an injury that might not necessarily have been fatal.

Why does this happen so often?  It’s either because the medical staff are incompetent, releasing the victim far too early and after far too little professional investigation and care or it’s because they are so poorly supplied with equipment that a proper diagnosis cannot be made.

Except for one murder case which I have presided over, I have seen no evidence that victims are dying because of possible incompetence of medical staff and I have referred that one case to the DPP, although it seems as if nothing has happened as a result.

But it is not so much a lack of ability in the medical staff.  It is the lack of equipment that is provided to them to properly diagnose and care for emergency patients.  One might understand why in some remote villages it is just not possible to have sufficient modern equipment to enable people to be properly cared for.  It is not a perfect world and we all understand that.  But the total absence in some provinces of anything more advanced than a bandage and an aspirin is disgraceful.

But that is not even this case. In this case the victim was taken to the major hospital in Solomon Islands; he was taken to the National Referral Hospital known as No.9.

It is after being treated in that hospital that this young man died.  Again he was treated for his head injuries by having four stitches put into his head and that was it.

Incompetence? Probably not.

Why is it that best facility in Solomon Islands is so pathetically equipped?

What has happened to all the hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of dollars, that has been poured into the government’s coffers ostensibly for the purpose of improving that hospital?

In an open democratic society, every dollar spent on that hospital should be accountable and every person dealing with that money should be identifiable.

Those who have been there know that it would not be considered fit for use as a hospital in many other civilised communities.  And this community might well be forgiven for assuming that the money has been diverted for some other purposes or for some other persons.

If so, who are those people, who much money have they diverted and how much have they actually used for the hospital’s purposes.  Doesn’t this community deserve an explanation?  Doesn’t this community have a right to demand an immediate and thorough forensic investigation into the finances of the hospital, not just for this year, but for every year of its operation?  To find out where the money has gone and to find out who was involved.

Surely, it is impossible for it to be in the state that it now is in if it had been subjected to honest management over these years.

It is understandable that people are concerned about official corruption.  If the hospital is in this state because of corruption, then weed out and expose those who are corrupted, for they have not only damaged the fabric of honest Solomon Island society, they have caused lives to be lost.  And that is the point of these remarks.

People, who should only be injured victims of what might otherwise be just assault cases, are becoming the deceased in murder cases.  People are dying from injuries that should not be fatal.

They are so often fatal because medical staff either do not have the equipment or, if it exists, cannot get to it quickly enough, to properly treat victims of violence.  They do not have the necessary equipment because the money dedicated to that end somehow, has not managed to produce it.

And people are dying.

Not only people are dying, but many more young men are being convicted as murderers and being sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison at great cost to the community and to themselves, because their unfortunate victims did not receive the care that might have saved them.

It is time for the leaders of this community to stand up and say Solomon Islanders deserve better than that.  They don’t have the luxury of going overseas when they or their family members need medical care, but others do.

What might happen if people in high office, all high office, were stopped from getting their medical treatment overseas?

You would see overnight improvement in the facilities offered right here.  But it’s because those in high office have the means and the freedom to get their treatment overseas, that they have a moral obligation to do better for the people they leave behind.  For after all, they are the people whose interests they are meant to serve.

Editor’s note: The ‘case’ referred to above by the judge in his remarks have its story on page 3 (Henderson Murder case). These were separate remarks from a judgement on the case made by Australian High Court Judge Justice Stephen Pallaras.