I’ve been listening very carefully to Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, who has appeared on a number of media talk shows lately, answering questions about the public health care system and also providing enthusiastic support for the proposed new government “health card” which is going to be made available to people so they can access health care without having to pay for it —the health card meaning the Government will take up the bill.
I must say that Dr Khan comes across as very caring and conscientious and very determined to improve the quality of the public health care system. There’s another quality or element about Dr Khan’s responses and statements that I will refer to later on.
But there are people currently working in that system who, to begin with, are both saddened and deeply puzzled that Dr Khan and his government seem also determined to go ahead with plans to build a new billion dollar hospital in central Trinidad while the existing hospitals are all in a mess and definitely in need of some urgent care.
“Not one (existing) hospital,” I am told, “is functioning properly nor equipped not staffed adequately.”.
For example, an essential piece of medical equipment like a CT scanner at the Port of Spain General Hospital “has spent 95 per cent of the last 12 months out of service. And the same is true for the CT scanner at the Sangre Grande hospital.”
All “emergency CT scans from the Port of Spain General Hospital have been sent to the (privately-run) St Clair Medical clinic for months”, at what no doubt is an astronomical cost.
At present, and for some time now, there is no MRI in the Port of Spain General Hospital. As a result you now have a situation where some doctors in the public health care system are telling patients “if you gave me $7,000 I will expedite your scans and results for you.”
Bear in mind, that this is a service that is supposed to be free.
The histology service in our hospitals is in no better shape. Patients simply cannot rely on its efficiency.
In addition to which, “there are not enough midwives, nurses, attendants. Every (existing) hospital has a staff shortage and that includes doctors”.
Little wonder that so many patients seeking medical help in our hospitals often complain bitterly about the poor quality of service they receive.
It reminds me of an elderly woman I met at a private health clinic some months ago. Sitting next to me, she looked so distressed that I felt compelled to ask her what was wrong. She told me that early that morning she’d had a suspected heart attack and her daughter had rushed her to the nearest hospital—where she had spent the entire day sitting on a bench without seeing a doctor.
Finally, fed up, her daughter had brought her to a private medical clinic for treatment.
And this, I’m certain, is a story that can be repeated by hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose experience with the public health care system is simply atrocious. In the Saturday Express of October 26, Bernard Joseph was quoted as saying his aunt, Soogamie Rampersad, had been waiting on a wheelchair since being admitted to the San Fernando General Hospital on Thursday, shortly after 9 a.m.
Up to late Friday evening, Rampersad, who is also a diabetic, was also still awaiting a bed, along with several other patients.
In short, this is a norm at our existing hospitals.
An employee within the public health care system also points out that in some parts of our existing hospitals, which have not been cleaned in years, “insects and rodents have free rein.” Yes. In our public hospitals which are supposed to be realms of cleanliness!
As that same employee puts it, in relation to the huge sums of money planned for expenditure on a new hospital: “They (the Government) could divide the money equally among the existing hospitals to get improved services...I mean, if they cannot run the hospitals that they have now, what makes them think the addition of a new one will improve things?”
There is even gloomier speculation in some quarters about that proposed new billion-dollar hospital. “Is it just another grandiose project that will make it possible for corruption to flourish?” one sceptic asks.
Corruption charges against the Government flew thick and fast during the recent local government election campaign. The Government, of course, has denied them all.
But when critics can point to a billion-dollar project like a new hospital when conditions in the existing hospitals are in a very bad state, suspicions about such a project simply being a cover for corruption are bound to arise and take root.
As for that new public health care card that the government seems to be promoting so heavily, several doctors that I have spoken to about it appear very sceptical. Some of them prefer to wait and hear the details on exactly how the card will work before making any commitment. Others have their doubts about the efficiency of a health card system since the Government usually takes an extremely long time to settle its bills and for that reason they believe some doctors will be reluctant to accept the proposed card.
None of these issues, I must say, have been tackled head on by Dr Khan in his recent public pronouncements on the health care system which clearly seems to be need of some fairly urgent care and attention. I have no doubt at all, from the things he says, that Dr Khan has very good intentions—but then we all know that the road to hell is broadly and adequately paved with such intentions. I think Dr Khan and the Government should seriously reconsider.
Mark my word!