There is a place in this world for whistleblowers, men and women who for the greater good as they see it, divulge sensitive information in the best interest of the wider population. And then there are contractual terms of employment that forbid persons from revealing information in the public sphere. It is a delicate balancing act, a personal war being conscience and obligation, a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Does one put the interest of country first and self second, or does one hold fast to those conditions to which one is lawfully and justifiably bound?
We have a present situation where consultant general surgeon Dr Maurice Kiseka Walrond has been threatened with disciplinary action, inclusive of termination of employment, for comments made publicly about conditions and operations at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH). Speaking on behalf of a group of fellow surgeons, Walrond recently called into a radio programme and complained about the inadequacies within operating theatres at the QEH. He also called for the hospital’s leadership to do more to keep the environment there COVID-19-free. Dr Walrond also suggested that patients who were COVID-19 positive but needed general surgery could find themselves at risk if transferred to the QEH for surgical procedures. He said that 11 colleagues from the Department of Surgery had put their signatures to a letter sent to Government itemising their concerns. The action of Walrond was clearly in the interest of the general public. Questions might be asked, however, as to whether there was an internal complaints protocol that Dr Walrond followed or just ignored. Following the written letter sent to Government about the problems at the hospital, was any action taken or was Government given adequate time to deal with the infelicities? There are many past and ongoing scenarios that perhaps might have justified Walrond’s actions in trying to bring swifter resolution to the highlighted problems at the QEH. But administrative protocols cannot be ignored out of hand.
Dr Walrond’s bargaining body, the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP), in his defence indicated that his concerns were valid and he had its support “since they relate to healthcare workers at risk as well as it refers to not being able to provide adequate service to the public….” BAMP, though, acknowledged that the QEH had rules and regulations of which employees including Dr Walrond were signatories to and by which they were guided. However, BAMP suggested that the advent of the COVID-19 virus had somewhat influenced the dotted line. “…We are in a different era with this virus, which threatens not just patients but especially healthcare workers; and Dr Walrond’s concern was really in keeping with his fear and the fear of his fellow workers who see the risk they have been put at in trying to give adequate care to the public,” BAMP noted, adding that it was an extraordinary circumstance which Dr Walrond took upon himself to voice even if he, unfortunately, did so in the public domain. The suggestion here was that Dr Walrond put country and patients before self.
But does the QEH have a case against Dr Walrond? Yes, it does. For all his good intentions, the rules and regulations that govern any institution are there for a reason and bring order and consistency to the process of management. And if one agrees to abide by those directives through contractual arrangement, then moving the goal post or ignoring that dotted line will of necessity have consequences. QEH executive chairman Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland has informed Dr Walrond that disciplinary action is being contemplated against him with respect to his speaking on the radio and basically washing the QEH’s dirty linen in the public domain. But neither Mrs Bynoe-Sutherland nor the QEH Board is any villain in this situation. Just as much as Dr Walrond broke the rules governing his employment, Mrs Bynoe-Sutherland is simply adhering to them.
In this scenario, however, the QEH could be persuaded to look beyond the rules. Motive counts in most matters where adjudication of an individual’s conduct is to be made. We believe that disciplinary action, if any, should not include dismissal of this apparently committed and by his actions, selfless professional. Can the QEH afford to part company with someone of his mettle in these “extraordinary” times? Would it not be more pragmatic to focus administrative attention on his complaints, rather than on the avenue through which he made them? Will an unqualified apology from Dr Walrond through BAMP be forthcoming? We believe that Dr Walrond, Mrs Bynoe-Sutherland and her Board have as their primary interest the welfare of Barbadians and the efficient functioning of the QEH. The breach of protocol can be easily mended, not necessarily over a bowl of soup, but still to the benefit of all. There are no villains here.
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