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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2061

Lalin’s Column: Police Hospital -Shocking and disgraceful negligence, criminal or not - IGP to the rescue

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

The reports in the Sunday papers of alleged medical negligence at the 180 bed Police hospital in the death of a retired police officer, (SDIG Leo Perera) are distressing. A case even of criminal negligence has been suggested. The IGP when informed of the allegations decided it was a case for the CID to report to him. Apparently the case is now before the Police Commission as the CID has highlighted 12 incidents of medical negligence.

There followed a report that a police sergeant in charge of medical supplies was caught pilfering such supplies. Apparently he also owned a thriving pharmacy close by. Are there any hospitals or clinics owned by police doctors close by too? Who is responsible to the IGP for the administration of the hospital? Is there a mismatch to put it mildly?

The parlous state of the hospital was known to all in the police before. A retired SDIG was tasked to study the situation and make proposals to revamp it last year. However follow up action was delayed.

The story came out when the son of the SDIG complained to the Police Commission and IGP that his father’s death at the hospital on 28 Oct 2016 could have been due to negligence. This could be corroborated by the experience of retired DIG Edward Gunewardene’s near death experience at the same hospital due to similar negligence. These could both surely not be a mere coincidence.

Shockingly in the Sunday Times on 31 July 16, B Anton Jeyanathan who writes as a ‘retired DIG’ sought to defend the actions of the doctors if not their activities in an article titled ‘Negative publicity cannot over shadow the Police Hospital’s yeoman service’. His article segues from (professional) comment to (retired) patronizing self interest with lapses in veracity.

But what must cause concern to the Police is that Jeyanathan is a serving member of the National Police Commission. Did he inadvertently or even deliberately forget to mention this? A glaring error that must remove much if not all credibility to his fanciful description of the hospital. It should also be of concern to the Commission. Who recommended him to be a member?

Misinterpreting whom he describes as a ‘senior state counsel’s’ recent publication which begins –“medical negligence claims are left unanswered” he tries painstakingly to interpret it to suit his effort to downplay the negative publicity he admits. He has failed to see that what the state counsel meant is that only those who can afford to take such matters to courts, do so. This matter in any case has been addressed not to the Courts but to the IGP and the Police Commission as Jeyanathan knows. So has he not already made up his mind on his contribution to the Commission’s still delayed response? Should he remain a member?

Struggling in turgid waters his attempts at white washing facts, compromise his claims. He states there are as many as 37 doctors in the hospital in addition to ‘well known physicians and consultants’ for 150 patients and 500 OPD cases. However with ‘all the Kings horses and all the King’s men’ it appears nothing could have saved the SDIG or any other emergency case – except by bolting from the police hospital like DIG Gunewardene did.

Jeyanathan claims that a lady physician, (name not given but well known), sees 300 patients at her clinic. If it was an 8 hour clinic it would mean that a patient would get less than 2 minutes of her time. But don’t they all go off at 1.30 pm –for more important business? What a clinic and what an amazing doctor. One must wonder if these clinics are hop, step and jump trials for Olympic if not medical records.

Jeyanathan makes a categorical but erroneous and inexact claim that the Hospital doctors are not ‘police’ officers. Everyone and not only in the Police and the Tri Services know that once mobilized , ‘reservists’ are to all intents and purposes members of that service receiving equal pay and conditions of that service with allied responsibilities. Surprisingly if not also foolishly or more contradicting himself, he goes on to say they are actually ‘reservist police officers carrying different ranks’. What extraordinary contradictions. Does this ex DIG then mean that the rank insignia the police reservist doctors wear when they are mobilized for duty at the hospital are meant to be decorations like ginger beer bottle tops from the canteen?

Most people reading the article would not be mistaken if they concluded that the Police Hospital is massive but very little more than a glorified dispensary/OPD. Surely not all the 37 doctors care less for police officers who seek medical attention. So is the Police hospital a sham and a waste of national funds especially at the most critical time when a medical emergency occurs?

It was said that some of the senior doctors in the hospital were more absent than present in the hospital most of the time. Apparently after 1.30 pm there are only 2 young Police doctors in the hospital. The seniors, consultants and chief medical officer were certainly absent when the above two DIGs needed their attention urgently. The IGP when informed decided it was a case for the CID to report to him on these allegations.

When DIG Leo Perera was brought into the Police Hospital on 26 Oct 16 he needed to have antibiotics intravenously. However amazingly, of the 7 rooms available for senior Gazetted officers, only one was free and that was reserved in case the IGP needed it! In which hospital, service or otherwise is there such an arrangement? No one at the hospital thought to ask the IGP whether it could be given to SDIG Perera. DIG Perera was therefore required to be warded with the rankers. He declined. He was therefore given antibiotics to be administered at home. Whose decision was this? Did it contribute to his death?

His condition worsened and he was taken back to the hospital on 27 Oct 16. Apparently no senior doctor saw him. At night he became worse. Early morning on 28 Oct 16, not the doctor or even a nurse but a privately engaged ‘attendant’ telephoned the family to say he had died. The family rushed to the hospital and sought to find out what had happened. The cause of death was apparently certified without a post mortem or even a medical examination by someone who did not see the body. Does the GMOA know? Jeyanathan believes all this is ‘yeoman’ service! Does he know how inappropriate the word is to hospital service?

Jeyanathan is at pains to show that there are ‘”well known physicians and specialists who offer their services on a voluntary basis visiting the (police) hospital on a regular basis”. These unnamed visitors ‘offerings’ do not in any way mitigate the lapses of the hospital. Does he also seek to show that they are many eminent doctors wandering around the Police hospital during the day to do whatever for nothing? He must tell this to the Marines.

Do the police ‘reservist’ officer consultants not get 250 litres of fuel free with a car and driver even if they live 5kms away? Do they visit seriously ill patients after close of play – (1.30 pm)? One must wonder what these senior medical (police) reservists (ASP and above?) do in their spare time-1.30 pm – 9am, for the hospital? Their unique medical point could be ‘have petrol, willing to visit’. What price that the many private hospitals in the vicinity have not taken any notice (“since 1990 or so” as Jeyanathan puts it) of these ‘cruisers’ while unfortunate police officers die in the benighted hospital that pays them.

His inane and unfortunate expression ‘One swallow does not make a summer’ with reference to the SDIG’s death under regrettable circumstances may inadvertently admit negligence as pleaded by the SDIG’s son. It also sadly shows either incomprehension of the meaning of the phrase or utter callousness. The death of a highly respected retired SDIG is not about swallows or summer, both not seen in SL. It is about saving life which is what medical services are about and untimely death which the families of the SDIG and all others who have suffered in like manner (silently-through fear?) have borne.

The IGP should revamp the hospital, punish or dismiss the negligent and recruit staff that will be proud to serve the police and thus their country. He could personally visit the Tri Service hospitals with his revamping team to observe how excellently they perform. It will be beneficial. Tri Forces hospitals are under the equivalent of the Army’s Adjutant General. This is all about police morale. Ask any constable but not anyone who tries to defend the present police hospital administration and senior staff. It is up to the IGP now.

Personal note

SDIG Leo Perera was a very good friend and a highly respected colleague in Law and Order duties. I met him first inn late1971 when he as a ASP turned up at Diyatalawa at the First Battalion Gemunu Watch in charge of a squad of police officers detailed for the first ever police counter insurgency training. They were wary about having been drafted for military training but very soon under Leo’s leadership any concerns were sorted out very early. They were a very enthusiastic lot as Leo set a splendid example by his quick assimilation of training lessons in the class room and in the field. He was the best shot amongst some crack shooters. I recall later SDIG Camillus Abeygoonewardene and the police rugby stalwart Thirumani the Iron Man as he was called in rugby circles.

Another crack shooter was then Inspector swarthy tough looking Mendis who did best at night shooting. Leo’s confidence spread to the others. Although due to the short period of training things were very hard physically on the police officers they were always enthusiastic because their ASP joined them in everything. That included crawling hundreds of yards on rock hard surfaces and sprinting uphill in the attack. They left a gung ho lot. Any insurgent would be given a hard time from this lot.

The next time we met was when he briefed very senior government officials and military chiefs and over 100 military liaison officers on the traffic plans he had drawn up for the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) Conference that was held in 1976 at the BMICH. There was the proverbial pin drop silence when he asked at the end of his presentation whether there were “any questions”. All military orders but not police end with that question. The Gemunu Watch training had not been wasted.

His traffic plan was one of the highlights of the conference arrangements. Ninety six Heads of state(HOS) or Government (HOG) and 5 heads of International organizations including the UN Secretary General (Kurt Waldheim) were moved mainly from 2 hotels (Intercontinental (now Kingsbury) and Oberoi (now Cinnamon Grand) to the BMICH for the Opening Ceremony arriving every 3 minutes on the dot. The HOS and HOG included a galaxy whose equal will never ever be seen in SL. It included Indira Gandhi (who arrived from India that same day), Marshal Josef Tito, Anver Sadat who had taken over from Nasser, Houari Boumediene, Muammer Gaddafi, Archbishop Makarios, Hafes al Assad, Cecil Denis (Liberia) Manley (Trinidad) and leaders of African liberation movements who became HOS after liberation. Afterwards DIG Leo was invited by the Japanese government to visit Japan and brief them on how he achieved such outstanding results.

The last time I met Leo on state duty was when we were both in Ampara during the 1981 racial riots that had an incipient start in the Ampara. It was sorted out without any race related deaths in Ampara or Batticaloa. However racial murders took place in Embilipitiya and Kataragama. They were followed inexplicably by conflagrations in Ratnapura and Rakwana. Government goondas appeared to be encouraged. It ended in the carnage of 1983. In Ampara I was asked by the GA Mr. Ariyaratne (the most forthright GA I have ever known) to sort out some complaints by Ministers Majid and Munsoor that the army troops sent there had beaten a few people and stolen some jewellery after an army cordon and search operation of a mud thatched Muslim village in Kalmunai. The villagers were accused of attacking and looting their Tamil neighbours while ostensibly a Sinhala Tamil problem existed. The matter was sorted out to the satisfaction of people and the Ministers after I visited all the villagers alone with them. They appreciated my volunteering to meet the villagers. They had not lost face.

On my return to Ampara I met DIG Leo at the GA’s office. Leo was very uptight and said he wanted to arrest the Army officers concerned in the alleged wrong doings at Kalmunai. I explained what had happened and that if any officer was to be arrested he would have to arrest me as the officer who had conducted the cordon and search operation had done so under my orders. (The one mistake the officer had made was that after the operation he had not searched the searchers according to the standard practice. This was to ensure that the troops had not taken anything themselves so that such charges could not arise thereafter against the troops. I did not divulge this to Leo who was all fired up).

I told Leo that the villagers did not pursue their allegations after I met with them in the presence of their Ministers. Leo however as a precautionary measure spoke to Minster Majid, who had made the complaint. Satisfied, he said “Lalin, that’s OK then” .It was a great relief! I knew Leo had no friends when it came to duty. For that matter he knew neither did I.

He spoke very wisely at my farewell party organized by me at Inginiyagala Rest House at my departure from the Combat Training School Ampara. I think there were 2 future Major Generals (Major Ananda Weerasekera and 2/LT Asoka Thoradeniya and one future IGP (Mr. Bodhi Liyanage) there. The third future General in Batticaloa (Major Sathis Jayasundera) could not come.

(NB. The Officer who conducted the search retired as a Major General and is now a monk in the general area of Ampara. After 1994 when some extraordinary charges were made against this same army officer I met the Judge (I had never met him before) who headed a Presidential commission to hear these charges at his house at Mt Lavinia, (without an appointment). I introduced myself and with some trepidation asked permission to speak. I told him that the officer had worked with me and could not possibly be so accused. The judge listened very patiently. He had apparently believed otherwise. We left it that. The Commission did not take any action on that officer or any other matter I believe.

- Asian Tribune -

Lalin’s Column: Police Hospital -Shocking and disgraceful negligence, criminal or not -  IGP to the rescue
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