Health Ministry shaken by growing number of unsettling experiences described by female patients



Split, 0505417.
Reportaza sa odjela za neonatologiju Klinike za zenske bolesti i porode KBC-a Split. Na fotografiji: sestra Helena
Foto: Tom Dubravec / CROPIX
Tom Dubravec / HANZA MEDIA

Illustration: Women's Clinic in Clinical Hospital Centre Split

After Most MP Ninčević Lesardić described hear traumatic experience at the State-run womans' health clinic in the Sabor, many other women are coming forward with their own unsettling experiences. Assistant Health Minister Vili Beroš invited all women to report everything to the Health Ministry, promising that all reports will be investigated.

"The situation is more than serious and the Health Ministry will surely not pretend everything is fine, like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand," said Assistant Health Minister Vili Beroš. "This is a very sensitive issue. We will thoroughly investigate all complaints and you can expect inspectors will be sent to hospitals."

"After that, depending on results, we will take further action. We will not allow any cover-ups and will insist that all cases are investigated thoroughly," announced Beroš on Sunday, commenting on the growing number of women coming out with their experiences with curettage without anesthesia in Croatian hospitals, which was spurred by Sabor deputy Ivana Ninčević Lesandrić with her public statement.

What are the indications

During the discussion on holding a vote of no confidence in Health Minister Milan Kujundžić last week, the MP asked him about his plans with regard to curettage without anesthesia, detailing her experiences last year after she had a miscarriage. The Minister replied that "Croatian hospitals do not do that." The hospital where the MP had the procedure accused her of lying and physicians said in following days that "90% of curettage procedures are performed under anesthesia."

This was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back as a surprisingly large number of women who experienced the opposite started sharing their experiences in public - the number was too large to easily believe that they are all exceptions and that medical indications in their cases did not allow use of anesthesia.

If this was an isolated incident, it could be investigated, adequate steps could be taken and the incident could have been seen as an anomaly, said Assistant Minister Beroš. However, he is of the opinion that the Ministry has to make a serious and objective analysis under these circumstances. That is why he announced a large action, similar to the one implemented three years ago as part of the project #Prekinimo šutnju [#End the silence], when the RODA NGO organized release of troubling delivery stories of hundreds of women, pointing to inhumane treatment of childbearing women as well as procedures such as perineal cuts and stitching, which they said are performed without anesthesia.

Reports are coming in

That is when inspectors were sent to all maternity hospitals and reports were drawn up for each such hospital over a period of 10 months. Yes, irregularities were found. As far as I know, one of the recommendations then was to improve anesthesiology in health protection of women - said the Assistant Minister. He pointed out that the situation in maternity hospitals has improved since.

-We are planning to do the same now. This is why I would like to invite all women, patients, who believe they were not treated in line with best medical practices, to contact us, at least anonymously. I guarantee that all reports will be investigated and, if needed, documentation will be sent to relevant authorities for further processing. It is important to build a sound foundation for taking concrete actions - stressed Beroš.

According to available information, the Minister should receive tens of reports today that the RODA NGO gathered. RODA representatives announced they will present the Health Ministry today with all reports they have received from patients. They see the action that was spurred by MP Ninčević Lesandrić as continuation of the #Prekinimo šutnju movement from several years ago.

The NGO welcomed the Ministry's plan, but is not optimistic about the results.

Patient rights

The inspection in maternity hospitals in 2015 did not result in any improvements, to the contrary. Findings of the inspection were not released, no issues were presented and no steps aimed at improving the situation were announced - said Daniela Drandić from the RODA. She pointed out that RODA representatives took an active role in the project and held workshops for physicians in four Croatian maternity hospitals in cooperation with representatives of the Health Ministry and experts as part of the pilot-project Maternity hospitals - friends of mothers.

"We investigated the situation in maternity hospitals before the workshop project and made an evaluation six months after the project. We have concluded that nothing changed," stressed Drandić.

She expressed belief that this scenario - a lot of talk and no tangible results - is one of the reasons that deputy Ninčević Lisandrić's statement attracted so much support from patients.

"Women see there were no changes, which caused them to revolt even more," said Drandić. She pointed out that she is aware approach to women during and after birth and miscarriage cannot improve overnight: it requires changing the position of experts and the public completely as they believe "it is what it is" and "women have to take it."

"No, they do not. Now is the time for physicians to realize this. It appears to us that women have figured it out and finally feel they have the right to ask questions and demand what is best for them," asserted Drandić.