THE San Fernando General Hospital has been without a full time neurosurgeon for the past five years.
The hospital has hired consultants while advertising internationally in a failed bid to fill one of the most important specialties in medicine.
In the meantime, an unknown number of patients requiring brain and spinal surgery have been sent to either private or other public institutions for treatment and surgery. Some have died while waiting to be treated, the Express was told.
The problem is money, said a senior hospital official yesterday.
A neurosurgeon in the Public Health Service is paid about $30,000 a month. The same job pays as much as $100,000 for each surgery performed at a private hospital.
The San Fernando General Hospital, which serves a catchment area of some 600,000 citizens, has put an interim measure in place.
Brain-injured patients are assessed and sent to the Port of Spain or Mt Hope hospitals if it is deemed an emergency, and if a bed is available. The Port of Spain General Hospital has several neurosurgeons.
However, the loss of the surgical cranial drill needed for the surgeries at the Port of Spain General Hospital means these patients will have to wait longer for operations, the Express was told.
Chief executive officer of the SWRHA, Anil Gosine, said yesterday the San Fernando hospital needed at least two neurosurgeons. The last resident neurosurgeon left in 2007 and now works with a private hospital.
Another hospital official said the solution was for the State to invest in training doctors to become specialised, instead of "running around like headless chickens trying to import neurosurgeons and spending thousands, maybe millions to train persons abroad".
The official said, "Jamaica is training super-rich Trinidad. Why super-rich Trinidad can't train their own neurosurgeons with all the state-of-the-art equipment that we can afford here? It is a tragedy that Trinidad does not train its own people especially when you have highly skilled, highly trained neurosurgeons in Port of Spain."
The official said, "You would have thought that by now, the universities, with the Ministry of Health, would have set up a post-grad training programme in neurosurgery right here in Trinidad."
Gosine also said that if beds at north Trinidad hospitals were not immediately available to brain injured patients from south Trinidad, they would be stabilised as much as possible until one became available.
There were no major issues concerning the unavailability of beds recently, he said.
For persons not needing immediate surgery, Gosine said, "They come to the clinic. They will get all their tests done and then they will be carded for surgery. The surgery will be done in Port of Spain or Mt Hope. In most cases they would be given an appointment for the surgeries to be done.
"The SWRHA spent $20,000 recently to advertise in the Jamaica Gleaner for a neurosurgeon. There was no response.