Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Indecent Haste: Alpha Pam

The Balearics health minister, Martí Sansaloni, considers the case of Alpha Pam, the Senegalese man who died of tuberculosis, to be closed. Closure has come, according to the minister, because the director of Inca Hospital, where Pam was not treated as an emergency (which by law he should have been, despite not having the right papers), has been dismissed and because disciplinary proceedings are being taken against three other members of the hospital's staff.

Sansaloni might consider the matter closed but this closure has come with unprecedented haste. Matters do not usually get closed quite so swiftly in Mallorca and they have not previously been closed quite so swiftly where Inca Hospital is concerned. There is the case of the alleged breaches of data protection law that were committed by personnel at the hospital and which involved Partido Popular representatives at Inca town hall. This came to light two years ago. As far as I am aware, its investigation and processing through the national agency for data protection and courts has yet to be fully resolved. But as no one died as a result of this apparent illegality, then things can be spun out. When someone does die, best to seek closure quickly and hope everyone forgets about it.

Unfortunately for Sansaloni not everyone is likely to forget about it. And those not doing the forgetting include Santa Margalida town hall (Pam lived in Can Picafort), the Senegalese community, the main PSOE opposition and the now ex-director of the hospital, Fernando Navarro.

The town hall is demanding that compensation be paid to Alpha Pam's family. This demand has been echoed by PSOE and other opposition parties, who are also demanding a full inquiry by a parliamentary commission into what happened and into what they claim was a situation whereby Sansaloni and President Bauzá knew but did nothing to prevent immigrants without papers and health cards being billed for emergency treatment (which they shouldn't have been). This charging is now being rectified, but it was indicative, so government opponents maintain, of the approach to dealing with illegal immigrants and those without a health card, an approach that allegedly contributed to Pam's death.

The government insist that two mistakes were made at Inca, one having been a  medical error in diagnosing bronchitis and not TB, the other having been a failure to apply the rules regarding the treatment of those without papers in cases of emergency. It was a failure to follow these rules that led to the removal of Fernando Navarro, a charge against him that he utterly refutes. Navarro seems determined to defend his honour. The matter will therefore surely not be closed.

PSOE and the opposition are right to press for a full inquiry. If nothing else, there is an inconsistency in the government's insistence that there were two mistakes. If Pam died as a result of the misdiagnosis, then he did not die as a result of a failure by the hospital to attend to him. Something doesn't quite stack up. Moreover, Sansaloni's willingness to so quickly consign the case to history leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. The expedition in investigating the circumstances surrounding Pam's death, the apparent expedience in sacking Navarro, the consequent exculpation of the health ministry and the exigency with which closure has been sought and gained all reinforce a feeling that the Pam case and its handling amount to a failure of decency. And one comes back to the alleged data-protection abuse affair to which none of this speed has applied. Investigations shouldn't have to drag on for months or years, but a death is a more serious issue than the leaking of patient information; it demands a decent period of reflection and not convenient rapidity. 

Members of the Senegalese community on Mallorca met the other day with Senegal's foreign minister, who was in Palma to discuss, among other things, the lack of health care for Senegalese citizens. The minister spoke about the "pain" that his government felt over Pam's death. One thing it may hasten, however, is the return of immigrants to Senegal; the minister was looking at ways to facilitate repatriation. Senegal would like its people to return in order to help with the development of its agricultural industry, so perhaps, in a respect, some good might come of the Pam affair. If they have limited employment opportunities in Mallorca and questionable access to health care, then they would probably be better off returning, but such an eventuality would not remove the need for there to be a full appreciation as to what happened in the case of Alpha Pam. Sansaloni's belief that the case is closed is wrong.

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