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Deyalsingh must intervene in CT scan issue

Published: 
Sunday, June 18, 2017

It is unbelievable and outrageous that some patients suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses or injuries in south Trinidad are being told by the San Fernando General Hospital that they need to wait between three and four months before they can have CT scans done.

This waiting period is what was admitted by Gail Miller-Meade, the acting CEO of the South-West Regional Health Authority, the body that oversees the San Fernando General Hospital and health centres in that area, in response to a report published in this newspaper, that the wait list stretched to January 2018.

The T&T Guardian reported last week on the large backlog of patients at the hospital in San Fernando requiring CT scans, which has been caused by the fact that one of the two computerised tomography (CT) machines at the health institution has been non-functional for six months. Six months!!

The CT scan provides accurate cross-sectional images of the body and is used by doctors to measure the progression or regression of cancers and other serious ailments. The machine is, therefore, an important tool in the diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening medical problems.

There must be something seriously wrong with the procurement procedures of a public healthcare system that cannot purchase, on an emergency basis, a part for a piece of equipment that could be the difference between someone living with cancer and that person dying from it.

The explanation provided by acting SWRHA CEO Ms Miller-Meade for the lengthy period of time that the 64-Slice CT scanner has remained non-functional is that the supplier of the part was experiencing problems obtaining foreign exchange.

According to the healthcare executive: “The supplier never indicated that problem to us or else we could have engaged the Ministry of Finance to get the foreign exchange. But we found out afterwards and we are treating with that now so we can air freight the part.”

It is literally beyond belief that the chronic shortage of foreign exchange that T&T has been experiencing for at least three years now is being cited as the cause of the unavailability of crucial spare parts for important pieces of medical equipment.

It cannot be that foreign exchange is so scarce in T&T that a bank employee would fail to accede to a request from a legitimate healthcare equipment supplier for the foreign exchange to purchase the spare part.

That explanation requires an urgent intervention and investigation by Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh to determine whether there are other issues that have delayed the purchase of the part.

Mr Deyalsingh should also determine whether the response time of those who are responsible for spare part procurement in the public healthcare system is adequate.

The Minister of Health should also ensure that the procurement entity for all of the country’s public hospitals have access to a special emergency source of foreign exchange that can be disbursed quickly so that cancer, and other, patients do not have to wait for up to four months to get diagnostic scans.

Alternatively—and strictly as a short-term solution—the minister should consider putting in place a system that allows public hospitals to refer urgent cases requiring CT scans to private hospitals.

Mr Deyalsingh could, as well, give consideration to the suggestion of Dr Anand Chatoorgoon, the former medical chief of staff at the San Fernando General Hospital, that the CT scanners at the Couva Hospital should be pressed into use.

Clearly, 1,200 people on a CT-scan wait list that is months long is a crisis situation, which requires crisis thinking and crisis solutions.