Applications for inquest are declined but the High Court recognises steps to improve health services on the island.
In 2019 two families submitted applications to the High court for a coroner’s inquest to the deaths of their loved ones. The High Court declined both applications because the 1964 Inquest Act is limited is terms of its purpose. According to the law, the purpose of inquest is to establish the fact that a person has died, the identity of the deceased person and the when, where and how the death occurred.
The two applications include one by the family of former Cabinet Minister Aokuso Pavihi who passed away on 10 January 2019 of a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm due to hypertension as a consequence of diabetes. The family applied to the High Court for a formal investigation into the events leading up to his death while he was a patient of the Niuefoou hospital.
The family’s application through Mr Pavihi’s daughter Esther Pavihi highlighted a number of reasons for their request including that they believe delayed actions or inactions on the part of senior medical staff in their care of her father and “ their hope that this process will provide the hospital with the opportunity to implement changes to their procedures and to improve the care in decision making on the ordering of medical evacuations flights that will undoubtedly improve the patients chances of survival”.
Ms Pavihi told the court that her father’s condition was treatable in New Zealand but the decision to wait for the commercial flight four days after diagnosis was too late. She believed that her father’s condition warranted a medical evacuation and felt that the actions of the hospital was more about saving money than saving lives.
In response the Health department conveyed their sincere condolences to the Pavihi family for the passing of Mr Aokuso Pavihi. The response detailed the treatment received by Mr Pavihi while he was a patient of Niuefoou hospital and importantly as noted by the Court “The Health department recognises that continuous improvement is needed to deliver quality health services and they strive to implement best practice at every level. The medical team and the health department as a whole recognise opportunities for improvement.”
The court noted in it’s decision that “Because of the concerns raised by the Pavihi family the Health department has reflected on their processes and have determined improved steps so families in Niue can remain confident in the services of the Niuefoou hospital and the wider Health Department”.
The second application for an inquest into the death of Mr Lovini filed by his family. Mr Lovini passed away on January 29 2019 of pneumonia superimposed on COPD-emphysema.
The court says that Mr Lovini’s family raised genuine concerns with regards to the Niue health department with aspects touching on the health care budget for doctors and nurses for equipment, maintenance and replacement.
The judge felt that the health department’s response to the application does not address many of the concerns raised.
In his decision the Judge “encourage the Health department to give serious consideration to the matters raised in the application and to reflect on their processes and procedures and determine whether there are steps that can be taken to improve systems”.
Judge Coxhead also apologised on behalf of the court staff who failed to administer this application in a timely manner. The application was filed in February but information did not reach the judge until November and was filed in court in February 2020.
The Niue High Court decisions are accessed by BCN news from the Pacific Islands Legal institute website.