Health minister Joe Cassar has launched an internal inquiry into allegations by his former oncology chief, but faces a new broadside from MP Franco Debono. Photo: Mariza Dunham Gaspar/Mediatoday.
The health ministry will not be taking allegations by former oncology department chief Stephen Brincat to the police, until it makes its own verifications as part of an internal inquiry by the health department.
While the ministry is to investigate Prof. Brincat's allegations of deaths resulting from chemotherapy toxicity in the Gozo general hospital, Nationalist MP Franco Debono has declared he is considering a motion of no-confidence in health minister Joe Cassar, after the MP wrote to the Commissioner of Police to investigate Brincat's allegations.
"I am considering to file the motion of no-confidence because everyone has to carry responsibility for what affects people's lives," the MP said.
The MP has not declared whether he will be filing the motion this evening, which he said addresses all shortcomings in the health sector reported recently, mentioning the appointment of medical consultants and the conditions of hospital ambulances.
Writing in his personal blog, Debono - who tonight faces his own party's executive to have his ban from contesting the next elections reversed - said one of the "main features of the GonziPN administration" was that internal boards of inquiry led to nowhere in their investigations.
"After the very serious revelations by Prof. Brincat, and after I asked the Police Commissioner to investigate these serious allegations to determine any criminal liability and by who, in order to even avoid potential tampering of evidence, it is the criminal inquiry which should take precedence over everything else, especially some petty internal inquiries which almost never find any wrong doing because they are carried out by persons chosen on purpose by the administration.
"In criminal investigations time is of the essence," Debono said.
The MP said much fuss made on the prosecution of a local councillor and the inappropriate use of a council laptop, but not enough was done over ministerial responsibility. "When things get close to GonziPN ministers a different yardstick applies."
A health ministry spokesperson told this newspaper that the ministry, in conjunction with a number of other government departments, is currently in the process of investigating year by year what actually took place in the last 15 years and determine whether Brincat's allegations are true or false
Prof. Brincat claims he had repeatedly advised the ministry over the chemotherapy administered by inexperienced staff at the Gozo hospital, which he says led to the death of cancer patients.
He also said he resisted repeated attempts by the Health Ministry to introduce a chemotherapy service in Gozo "due to the lack of expertise" in the area and did it in the interest of patients.
But he denied claims by the ministry that he hadn't informed them of this situation.
"The investigations are in their early stages but once verified, the ministry will act accordingly," the health ministry spokesperson said of Brincat's claims. "However, every health professional is duty-bound to report such cases so if Brincat knew about the situation he should have reported it the minute he was aware that the deaths were occurring."
Prof. Brincat claimed that cancer patients treated in Gozo's General Hospital had died from chemotherapy toxicity, because the treatment was carried out without the necessary expertise.
Brincat claimed the ministry blatantly ignored his advice, leading to deaths from side-effects of chemotherapy.
"The patients in question had refused to undergo treatment in Malta and had treatment in Gozo against my advice.
"After this experience I did not allow chemo to be given in Gozo, resisting repeated attempts by the Health Ministry to introduce the service without the necessary expertise and resources."
Brincat however did emphasise that the deaths were a result of lack of experience and not due to sheer negligence. Brincat stated that the cases happened 15 years ago and he stuck to his guns to the day he resigned, repeatedly advising against chemotherapy treatment in Gozo.
"I did give the ministry a plan for the limited but safe introduction of chemo services in Gozo but this required four to six months to be put into effect.
"This advice was again rejected by the ministry, insisting on providing the service within the short time-frame of a month."
Despite his resignation as head of the oncology unit, Brincat said that he would continue to serve as a consultant at Boffa Hospital.