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Health ministry’s mea culpa over autopsy debacle

The health ministry conceded on Wednesday that there were shortcomings in the island’s forensic medicine mainly due to the dated administrative structure of the civil service.

In a statement following the debacle into the investigation of the death of a 46-year-old woman from Bulgaria who appears to have been mauled to death by dogs, the ministry expressed regret and apologised to the family over the fact that five post-mortems were needed to clear up the matter.

“We recognise the problems of the forensics medicine sector, which mainly stem from the administrative structure of the civil service,” the statement said.

The ministry said there was a gap in the method of evaluation, a general problem that concerned all health workers assessed on the basis of the public sector’s procedures.

Under the current system, longest-serving civil servants are typically regarded as the best suited to move up the administrative ladder and the vast majority are considered ‘exceptional’ in their evaluations.

The ministry said the absence of best practices, performance indicators, and quality controls constitute problems that will be resolved as part of the national health scheme.

Pending that, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou is seeking solutions to the problem through in-house meetings and talks with external experts.

“The minister, who is already considering two possible solutions, will go ahead with corrective measures as soon as possible in consultation with all parties involved,” the statement said without elaborating.

Irrespective, if any disciplinary offences arise following the completion of the investigation, the health ministry will carry out the necessary actions, it added.

In what has become a major embarrassment for Cyprus, on Monday the attorney-general ordered a fifth post-mortem to be carried out by a foreign pathologist, to be certain there would not be any doubts after the first one gave a different cause of death.

Petruna Nikolova arrived in Cyprus a few days before her February 22 death with her partner Ivan Ivanov and stayed in Yeroskipou.

She was out searching for work when she was found seriously injured in a field and died on her way to the hospital before being able to tell anyone what had happened.

The first autopsy, carried out by state pathologists Angeliki Papetta and Nicolas Charalambous, cited the cause of death as being hemorrhagic shock resulting from multiple injuries, possibly caused by farming equipment.

In the meantime, suspicions were raised due to the presence in the area of several rottweilers, prompting a second autopsy by Charalambous in the presence of a vet. That one found her death was “likely caused by dogs”.

Two more autopsies were carried out since, one on behalf of her family and one by a pathologist hired by two suspects arrested by police. Both found that her death was caused by dog bites.

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