Case of the missing ultrasound machine
The mysterious disappearance of a half-a-million-dollar ultrasound machine keeps shame in the faces of San Fernando General Hospital management and staff.
The circumstances surrounding the removal, and the present whereabouts, of the equipment remain the subject of amateurish speculation, with apparently no serious effort being made to solve what must be the health-sector crime of the decade. And it would presumably require no great sleuthing by the detectives of the Police Service to find the machine. After all, there are only so many doctors who would need an ultrasound machine, who work at the San Fernando General Hospital, and who would have been on duty when the machine vanished. Unfortunately, locating the equipment would have meant intense work within a short window of opportunity. By now, it is entirely possible that the culprit, having been alerted, has got rid of the main evidence.
This does not mean that the hospital’s authorities and the investigators should not continue trying to find the guilty party. Stealing from any institution is reprehensible, but it is especially so when this happens in a hospital. After all, this kind of thief is also a possible murderer since they put patients’ lives at risk. Yet theft has long been part of the culture of this country’s public hospitals, with staff known to pilfer everything from toilet paper to bedsheets. These employees seem to view hospital supplies as part of their salary, and administrators have rarely bothered to institute measures to reduce pilfering.
So the theft of the ultrasound machine was just an extreme instance of a standard practice. Moreover, such theft may merely be one act in a far more pernicious drama. In 2006, Dr Petronella Manning-Alleyne testified about corrupt procurement practices for hospital equipment before a commission of enquiry into the health sector. She claimed equipment was not being put to proper use due to “wheeling and dealing behind the scenes”, even naming specific companies, and noting that equipment which was sold by these companies was often not serviced, hence adding to inefficient treatment of patients and, in her own area of speciality, putting babies at risk.
Seven years later, commenting on an opinion poll critical of hospital delays in providing test results, head of the North-West Regional Health Authority Dr Shehenaz Mohammed blamed both the lack of equipment and the breakdown of existing machines. It is obvious to the public that the vanishing without a trace of expensive, hi-tech equipment must adversely affect hospital operations. It is even more obvious that continued pussyfooting and double-talk about the missing ultrasound machine can only be regarded as another negative reflection on the reliability and capability of persons entrusted with running this country’s public hospitals.