There is now a fresh approach on the case involving Dr Avinash Sawh.
The Medical Board and Council of T&T have withdrawn their initial November 2020 letter to the controversial Sawh – concerning five complaints about his abusive language of last October – and will now seek to have the five complainants fill out signed forms on their allegations.
And the council’s next meeting in February will state if it will proceed with an enquiry against Sawh.
This is contained in a letter from the medical board and council’s attorney Ragiv Persad to Sawh’s attorney Martin George sent yesterday.
“The council having received legal advice, has taken the position that whereas it disagrees with a significant number of the concerns raised by Dr Sawh, the council is of the view that before any further steps are taken, the council should allow persons who have raised concerns relative to Dr Sawh to be given an opportunity to determine whether they wish to make and sign a formal complaint on the council’s complaint form,” Persad told Guardian media yesterday.
“The council will allow those persons until the next meeting of the council in the second week of February 2021, where at that time the council will review the material at that point and revisit the issue at that meeting to determine afresh whether there is any basis for an enquiry to be made.”
Persad has also advised the council of options open to them under Section 24 of the Medical Board. This concerns disciplinary procedures.
The council’s decision is the latest on the issue which developed last October, following the social media leak of an audiotape of Sawh making abusive and derogatory remarks to a female employee. He received heavy fire for what was deemed his race rant -including calls for removal – from groups and on social media.
Government then requested the T&T Medical Authority and Medical Board of T&T and its Council probe the issue and take any necessary action.
The Medical Board and Council received complaints from Karian Forde, Denica Richards, Justin Ramroop, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and Dr Andre Alleyne.
The board and council stated it strongly condemned any sort of racial discrimination, racial slurs or verbal abuse by registered medical practitioners, since these could potentially be construed as infamous, disgraceful conduct on a doctor’s part as defined in the Medical Board Act.
Sawh apologised on November 12. But the board sent him a letter the same day notifying him of the complaints from the five people and seeking explanation in seven days.
The five alleged Sawh displayed “blatant racism, used racial slurs, verbally abused an employee and showed strong evidence of discriminatory hiring practices.”
The board had sent Sawh information which it had received via email on the allegations.
The council retained Persad for legal advice after George, last December, challenged the council to dismiss the probe against Sawh or face legal action. George stated that the complainants hadn’t used official signed forms as procedure required. He also accused the council of assisting a sixth person (Wendell Eversley) to make a complaint.
Persad, in yesterday’s letter to George, said he agreed with him on only one area: that the November 12 letter to Sawh without the council first obtaining the signed complaint forms was premature and such a step should have been completed before the letter was dispatched.
Persad said, “The council has accepted this advice. It has long been the customary practice to send to the prospective respondent everything in the possession of the council that is relevant when any decision is made to begin the inquiry process in relation to any member of the board.
“This, of course, is not to suggest for a moment that the council did not have before them proper valid indications of concern by members of the public and stakeholders in relation to material in the public domain that may or may not impact on a member of the profession.”
Persad said the most sensible way of dealing with George’s concerns will be for the council to withdraw the November letter to Sawh.
“This will allow the council to determine whether any of the persons who raise complaints/concerns are willing to formally fill out and sign the complaint form. If that happens, that material, as well as whatever other material that the council has before it that is relevant, will be submitted to the council, who will consider afresh whether or not an enquiry may be warranted.
“Secondly, we think this approach is reasonable, as it would allow the council to gather through the complaint form process information that might be useful to you in answering the 20 questions that you say your client needs clarification on.”
Persad said the council will make every effort to have the process completed over this month to allow persons who have raised concerns an opportunity to fill out and sign the complaint form should they choose to do so. The council’s meeting in February will make a new decision, whether based on the material before them, they should embark upon an enquiry.
“Needless to say, I’ve advised them of the options open to them under Section 24 of the Medical Board Act.”
Several of the complainants last night confirmed they were examining the situation.
Lawyer watis to see what develops
Attorney Martin George yesterday noted that the Medical Council has other options it can use under section 24 of the Medical Board Act.
“We’ll wait to see what happens,” he said.
George said the board and council decided to withdraw their (November) letter to Dr Avinash Sawh regarding the five complaints following his 100-page letter of December. He had objected to the council’s action on grounds including principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.
George said,“Our position has always been that we stand against any attempt by people or groups to seek to denigrate others on race, class or other basis and we wish to work with the board and council in future to ensure an enforceable code of code of ethics.
“Training, retraining or sensitivity training should also be given so things like this may never occur again. Government should also institute a race relations council.”
Meanwhile, the Medical Council, in its letter to George yesterday, said it didn’t agree with George’s points that the council’s complaint was invalid. The council also said it wasn’t objectionable to provide forms for any complaint. But the council rejected George’s claims about the council “forcing anyone to fill out” forms and also denied contacting the young woman in the issue.
The council said Sawh was welcome to take whatever steps he felt he’s entitled on “rectifying” any gap.
On George’s call for clarification on 20 matters before Sawh is called upon to answer, council attorney Ragiv Persad said the council felt such a request is quite reasonable.
Persad said the council hasn’t formed any position on whether Sawh’s conduct amounts to “infamous or disgraceful conduct” but was only concerned in drawing his attention to the material in the council’s possession on the issues raised. Whether Sawh accepts or disputes the material will “impact on how the council chooses to move forward, if at all,” he added.