Doctor “very, very sorry”

EXCLUSIVE by DAISY SAMPSON [email protected]

Lagoa-based ophthalmologist Franciscus Versteeg has spoken exclusively to the Algarve Resident about the “horrible accident” at his clinic, I-QMed, which has resulted in three of his former patients losing sight in the eyes that were operated on and a fourth patient undergoing surgery to try to restore vision to both of her eyes.

Stories in the Portuguese media regarding the qualifications of staff at I-QMed have been clarified by the Dutch doctor, who is currently in Holland but spoke to the Algarve Resident by phone on Wednesday, August 11.

“Firstly, I would like to say that we are all very, very sorry for the patients and their families. When working, problems can arise but in no way were the problems caused to the patients committed on purpose by myself or my staff. This was not a criminal act.”

Dr Versteeg described the surgeries of the four patients on July 20 as being “uneventful and normal” and he speculated that the reason behind the infections that affected all four of the patients was down to “some bacteria which probably entered the surgery”.

However, Dr Versteeg said that this was only a hypothesis, as the full reasons will only be declared after investigations into the cases have been completed by the Portuguese authorities.

He said that on July 20 this year, his first patient came in for corrective surgery on both of her eyes: “The procedure took just seven minutes as usual. When I had completed one eye, I then asked her if there were any problems, to which she said no. Usually we do not do two eyes on one day but it can be done in some circumstances and the patient had no problems.”

He added: “When the patient left the clinic, she was fine but then she called me during the night complaining of pain. When I saw her, there were no signs of problems, but again this is normal as the bacteria needs time to be able to develop.”

Dr Versteeg confirmed that the other three patients were elderly and each received operations on cataracts on one eye.

“Patients are aware of the problems that could occur during surgery and our website has all the details indicating the possible dangers.”

In regards to compensation, Dr Versteeg said: “It is standard procedure for patients in these situations to seek compensation, which is what we have insurance for.”

The I-QMed clinic in Lagoa is currently closed, which according to Dr Versteeg had been planned long before the operations on July 20.

“We had always planned for the clinic to be closed during August for remodelling works and expect for the building work to be completed by the third week in August.  We will then have air conditioning installed and should be ready to open fully by mid September.”

Dr Versteeg told the Algarve Resident that there had been “confusion” in the Portuguese press in relation to claims that the clinic is unlicensed.

He said: “It has taken one-and-a-half years to receive licences to be able to rebuild the clinic in Lagoa and these were granted in September 2009.

“Plans for the works have been approved but have not been completed, when the works have finished then the health authorities will be able to assess the facilities for us to be able to continue to function.”

Regarding suggestions in some parts of the Portuguese media that staff at the clinic are not qualified, he said: “There has been a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the role of my assistant, who has worked with me for eight years but would prefer not to be named in this case.

“He came to me to help initially with translations as I do not speak Portuguese and I needed him to be able to explain procedures to Portuguese patients. Because he was acting in this role, it is claimed that he was giving consultations however he was simply translating on my behalf.

“I would like to also confirm that he played the role of the auxiliary nurse in all the operations on July 20. I was assisted by a theatre nurse who was on the sterile side of the operation and my assistant worked as a liaison between the sterile and non-sterile areas of the theatre. He did not perform the surgeries, only I did.”

Dr Versteeg added: “This was a horrible accident, but sometimes accidents happen.”

At the time the Algarve Resident went to press on Wednesday, one patient, the 35-year old Brazilian woman from Odemira in the Alentejo, was still in Hospital dos Capuchos in Lisbon where doctors continue to hope that the damage to her sight will not be permanent.

Meanwhile, according to Portuguese paper Correio da Manhã, friends and family members of the four victims are planning to meet with a lawyer to proceed in a joint court case against I-QMed while Dutch health authorities have also launched an investigation into Dr Versteeg after complaints were made in Holland.

Investigations by the General Inspectorate of Activities in Health (Inspecção Geral das Actividades em Saúde IGAS) into the situation continue.

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]