FOR yet another day, patients at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC) experienced delays in services because of protest undertaken by the Public Services Association (PSA).
The PSA, incensed by the management's failure to improve the staff's working conditions as well as update their National Insurance contributions, has been protesting for close to two weeks now using sick-outs.
When the Express visited the hospital again yesterday, out-patients were being seen but by On the Job Trainees (OJTs) who worked as customer service representatives and were simply rescheduling appointments.
Other departments, like ophthalmology, had a queue of patients waiting to be seen, some of whom said they had been there "for hours" although it was not one of the departments where the majority of workers had called in sick.
Toilet facilities were not clean and lacked tissue paper. Rooms, including the pharmacy and paediatrics, were humid as they had no air conditioning, and some of the "sick-out" staff could be seen lounging under the trees near the administrative building.
Chairman of the EWMSC section at the PSA, Keith Bailey, said the departments affected by the protest included "radiology, medical records, surgical and medical out patient clinics, the main operating theatre, sterilisation unit and the dental hospital, which is only pursuing emergency services".
"At the paediatric out-patient clinic, which comprises both surgical and medical services, what is happening is that the surgical clinic has refused to see people because of no access to medical records so in totality, all of the services at this institution are severely affected," he added.
Vice-chairman of the EWMSC section at PSA, Nigel Small, said the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) was using OJTs to fill the gap but "on a daily basis, 338 workers stayed away".
He added that, contrary to reports, "the protest action never started out because of the privatisation issues — that came along when protest action was already initiated — it was because of issues ranging from poor facilities and the lack of NIB contributions".
In fact, he said the workers are clamouring for better working conditions, including proper ventilation and air-conditioning and proper tools as well as for their National Insurance contributions to be updated.
Small produced several employees' official NIB documents which showed that no payments were made for the period for 2012. He said because of the missed payments, many of the workers could not access maternity leave, injury leave and sick leave.
However, on Tuesday, NCRHA chairman, Dr Ashvin Sharma, told the Express that the payments were up to date, but Small disputed this.
At a press conference held at the Ministry of Health's head office in Port of Spain yesterday, Sharma again insisted that the payments were being made as per his "internal checks" and dismissed any notion of that someone could be stealing from the NCRHA.
He admitted, though, that there might be some delays at NIB and has promised to get NCRHA's CEO, Dr Colin Bissessar, to look into it.