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Don’t let hospital patients suffer

Friday, March 25, 2011

In all of the appointments of investigative committees and back-and-forth contentions between and among the Medical Professionals Association (MPATT), the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) and the Ministry of Health, no one should forget that all of them have a hospital to run, that is, the San Fernando General Hospital, which is probably the busiest of all medical institutions in the country. Reports coming through indicate that serious overcrowding and a slowdown in the treatment of patients attending clinics and seeking emergency medical care are all taking place at “Sando Gen,” as it is known among people in the southland. Too often, contentions over industrial matters are blown up to emerge as full-scale industrial rows. Often this results in go-slows, sickouts, blackouts, work-to-rule and a variety of euphemisms which mean that citizens are deprived of services.

In the instance of last month’s Carnival celebrations, there was the threat and possibility of a security blackout. Thankfully, that did not materialise with the police association committing its members to separate its dispute with the Government over wage negotiations from the responsibility of its members to provide the country with an essential service. The health service in San Fernando, serving dozens of towns and villages in the South, is of the same nature, perhaps even more so; as we all know that we are talking here about the difference between people staying alive or dying. We are therefore sounding an early warning, not too early, because it has reportedly started happening already, that the administration of the hospital, the Government, the healthcare professionals associated with the institution, all have a sacred responsibility to ensure that patients are not left undone; worse, tangled in the politics and contestations of the matter.

From previous experience, the practice has been when these health-related industrial matters come to the fore, all sides tend to play for sympathetic public attention. And soon enough when the neglect of patients inside and outside the health institution occurs, a blame game starts as to which one of the parties was responsible for the death of this or that patient. Unfortunately, the blame game will not bring back a life or prevent someone from sliding deep into a chronic medical condition. Therefore, MPATT, the directors of the SWRHA, the minister and the Government must make a commitment to the tens of thousands of residents of south Trinidad who depend on healthcare from the San Fernando General Hospital that the services will not suffer while the backroom investigations and contentions are taking place. It will be foolish and a sign of deep unconcern for ordinary people if the contentions and counters are allowed to impact negatively on patient care and attention.

On the business of the investigations, both the Government and the SWRHA have a major responsibility to ensure that the panels and the process are fair and transparent and are perceived to be so. If they are not, then an even bigger scandal will result and that will certainly up the ante and lead inexorably to the kind of patient neglect that we have counselled against. As is always the case, resolution of the kind of conflict that is taking place has the potential to redound to the greater good of, in this case, healthcare and the strengthening of an institution. For this to happen, not only does the investigative process and findings need to be transparent, but the results of the probe must be forthcoming soon for justice to be seen to be done on all sides. Stated differently, the investigations and follow-up actions depending on the outcome must happen within a time frame that speaks to efficiency as well as being prompt and just to all concerned.


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