North Central Regional Health Authority CEO Davlin Thomas.

Gail Alexander

The 11 medical practitioners who requested a probe of the transfer of four senior doctors from Couva Hospital have been asked to meet with the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) Director of Health and NCRHA CEO on the transfer issue.

The transferred doctors will likely be back in the Couva system “in due course.”

NCRHA board chairman Steve De Las spoke about the developments following an NCRHA board meeting, where the request by the 11 medical practitioners was discussed.

The 11, who are attached to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, wrote the NCHRA board on Tuesday concerning the recent transfer from the Couva Hospital of that hospital’s chief of staff Dr Don Martin and three other frontline specialists.

In a press release on the issue, NCRHA CEO Davlin Thomas had said it was a rotation on the doctors’ request after consultation with NCRHA Director of Health Dr Malachy Ojuro.

Martin subsequently denied this was requested, stating it was critical the existing team remained in place.

The letter sent by the 11 practitioners to the NCRHA board stated that “significant and disconcerting discordance still persisted between the two narratives.”

They said they reached out to the board since the matter was of singular importance, involving the most experienced physicians in T&T in the care of COVID-19 patients.

They queried why the doctors were removed and if their preferences were taken into consideration. They noted the removal attracted wide adverse public comment, including from a current Member of Parliament, the T&T Medical Association and T&T Registered Nurses Association.

The 11 insisted the board take immediate action to conduct an independent transparent inquiry into why the physicians were removed and why the action was conducted in such a curious, undesirable manner.

They sought an apology to the physicians who were removed and an offer for immediate reinstatement to reduce any adverse impact upon patient care.

They also wanted feedback on how the regional health authority intends to engage with medical staff moving forward, with reassurance that this sort of episode won’t be repeated.

Yesterday, the NCRHA’s De Las said the board had a very cordial meeting with representatives of the 11 doctors. He acknowledged there may be more than that number.

He said they met with their representatives, as the room couldn’t accommodate all who signed the document due to COVID distancing protocols. Board members contributed virtually.

After listening to the doctors’ concerns, the board then had another meeting with the CEO, the Director of Health Ojuro, the current Couva Medical Chief of Staff and the representatives of the 11 doctors.

He said he believed the problem in the issue resulted from miscommunication.

Going forward, he added the doctors’ representatives and NCRHA executive will have a meeting “and they’ll discuss what might have been the reasons (for what occurred), burnout and other issues”.

De Las said the leadership of the organisation will determine the requirement for rotation.

“Our priority is to have healthcare for all who require it and the leadership needs to work with that.”

He indicated the transferred doctors will be back in the (Couva) system in due course.

“Based on operational schedules, all clinical heads will have an opportunity to continue to contribute on COVID treatment on an ongoing basis.”

The meeting between the doctors and the NCHRA executive may take place next week.

De Las said it would be up to the doctors’ schedule.

He maintained the NCRHA wanted to give each patient the opportunity to be well taken care of.

“We don’t wish to unnecessarily draw attention away from delivering healthcare and put it on ourselves. Our priority is the patient.”

Thomas said he was in a meeting and couldn’t talk.

NCRHA’s timing bad—Khan

Former health minister Dr Fuad Khan yesterday said it was disturbing the NCRHA decided to remove the four senior physicians from the Couva facility and replace them with individuals who may not have the experience or the expertise necessary to deal with this crisis.

“Worse is the response being given by the CEO and other NCRHA officials appeared to be taking the position that the removal of these doctors from the parallel health system is a ‘rotation’ when in fact these four doctors were reassigned completely and will no longer have any involvement with the COVID-19 patients. This means the hundreds of persons currently hospitalized for this deadly virus will no longer be receiving the best healthcare from the most experienced doctors, not as a result of medical emergency, but because of administrative mismanagement,” Khan said.

“NCRHA’s decision not only threatens the quality of care being received by patients at Couva Hospital but the entire parallel health system as people best qualified to evaluate and assess the method of treatment have been removed from the programme entirely. With COVID fatalities at peak, the timing of this decision couldn’t have been worse, and in fact, may now worsen as a result.

“Instead of removing these four physicians from the programme, additional staff could have been added to allow a proper rotation. Instead, what appears to be an act of spite among the administrative personnel as a result of a similar request, is now threatening patients’ lives.’’