PROTEST action at the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) is starting to negatively impact the quality of care at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex.
Following a visit to the facility by the Express yesterday afternoon, a lot of out-patients were seen waiting to be attended to at the reception and pharmacy areas but there was limited staff.
One of the out-patients—who did not want to be identified—was waiting to be seen by the sole pharmacist and told the Express he had come to the hospital earlier in the morning but had a long wait and decided to go to work.
"I had number 45, but that time they were on number ten and it was moving slow, so I went to work and come back and like they start back over because is on number 17. So it looks like I have to wait again," he said.
At the hospital, signs could be seen posted throughout, advising patients they would experience long waiting times because of the lack of staff. And yesterday, the NCRHA placed advertisements in the newspapers, advising the public as such as well.
Employees attached to the sterilisation unit told the Express they normally have 30 people on staff but as a result of the protest action, they now have seven.
"It's a tight shift, and we are trying, but we have a lot of issues that need to be addressed ranging from the lack of NIS payments to no air conditioning here," said one employee who requested anonymity.
Confirming the service disruption was NCRHA chairman, Dr Ashvin Sharma, who told the Express via a telephone interview that it was directly related to the protest action undertaken by the Public Service Association (PSA).
The PSA, incensed by the inaction of management to settle long-outstanding arrears and the NCRHA's decision to establish a public private partnership (PPP) at the facility, has been protesting for close to two weeks now using sick-outs.
As such, Sharma said a decision was taken by the board to withdraw the Expression of Interest for the PPP as advertised in the daily newspapers "because it's what the PSA wants".
"Let us be clear, patients are our first and foremost concern and in an attempt to normalise service, this decision was taken," he said.
Sharma added that surgeries were being affected by the protest because the lack of ancillary staff.
"On a day-to-day basis, different workers decide to join the protest, sometimes its radiology, sometimes its the kitchen staff and sometimes its medical records.
"When this happens, some surgeries have to be rescheduled," he said.
Asked whether they would seek to reintroduce public private partnerships, Sharma said it was a possibility as "in the long run it will benefit the patient".
'So it may not be a permanent withdrawal, it may come back in a form the PSA is happy with," he said.
Asked why a decision was taken to institute a public/private partnership, Sharma said the plan was always in the works.
He said: "I think it was really just a matter of timing, but this was something that has always been contemplated because it can help improve the system.
"The NCRHA has a fixed financial expenditure but it's not enough. We can't expand our services to keep up with the demand so if we were to go into partnership it will help deal with some of our management problems, and as you know, NCRHA has some serious management problems."
Sharma further insisted that the concept was not new and said they had a similar one in place with the catheterisation lab which is being managed by the Advanced Cardiovascular Institute Ltd.
However, PSA first vice president, Christopher Joefield, said the union was not prepared to support any aspect of privatisation at the hospitals.
"This threatens the long-term welfare of the workers so I don't think it will have the benefit as being touted by the board," he said.
Asked if the withdrawal of the PPP would redound in the end of protest action, Joefield said it was too soon to say.
"Once we meet with the board (today) and have the discussions then I can say what we have decided but we can't consider the matter closed," he said.
Joefield added though, that the PSA would be always willing to contribute to the improvement of service.
"But improve what is already there," he said.
As for claims by the workers that the National Insurance contributions were not being paid since 2012 began, Sharma said, "that is not accurate".
"According to my checks with the accounting division, the payments are up to date," he said.