Dr Tim Gopeesingh, former Education Minister.

A former Member of Parliament and former Government Minister is calling for urgent reform of the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) across Trinidad and Tobago.

The call comes from Dr Tim Gopeesingh, former MP for Caroni East, and former Education Minister under the People’s Partnership Administration.

In a news release issued today, Dr Gopeesingh maintains that this country should not be “be a nation where non-functioning CT Scanners at one of our major public hospitals—Port of Spain General—has allegedly caused the tragic death of a citizen.”

According to Dr Gopeesingh, billions of dollars are spent on the health sector annually, but somehow, citizens do seem to get value for money at the various health institutions.

Dr Gopeesingh argues that the entire system needs to be better managed, and he is advising Government to embark on a major overhaul of the RHAs.

The full text of his statement, follows…

MEDIA STATEMENT BY DR TIM GOPEESINGH: LATEST DEADLY HEALTH FIASCO AT POS GENERAL HOSPITAL SHOWS URGENT NEED FOR REFORM OF T&T’s REGIONAL HEALTH AUTHORITIES

In 2020, T&T should not be a nation where non-functioning CT Scanners at one of our major public hospitals—Port of Spain General—has allegedly caused the tragic death of a citizen. This is simply unacceptable, and truly underscores the urgent need for drastic reform of the nation’s Regional Health Authorities (RHAs).

The fact is that over the last 10 years, Governments have spent almost $6 billion PER YEAR in the health sector. Yet, we remain plagued by daily reports of citizens encountering some of the worst conditions at our public hospitals.

A proper analysis will show that this ongoing, worsening healthcare system is ultimately a reflection of the poor and inadequate management capabilities plaguing the entire health sector, and particularly the RHAs.

There are four RHAs in Trinidad and one in Tobago. They are filled with a multitude of different staff at all levels, and MUST be properly coordinated and managed to effectively deliver the best health care services to citizens, which is their mandate.

These RHAs need urgent, operative management by the Boards, their respective CEOs and various Division Heads, including those of medical and nursing professions and Bio-Medical engineering teams.

Ideally, these senior managers should all be traversing every nook and cranny of all hospitals and health centres under their purview, if not weekly, then at least every fortnight. This with the aim of meeting with the various nursing, medical and paramedical staffs to understand the myriad of daily problems they encounter.

These include what is happening with the purchase of drugs, equipment, and the biomedical management of equipment at the various hospitals. In so doing, the RHA managers will be fully cognizant of all issues plaguing T&T’s public health institutions, with a view to effectively and quickly solving them.

The frightening reality, however, is that this is simply not happening at present. And it is because there are many square pegs in round holes serving as RHA Board Members, with little or no knowledge of the health sector. Board Members and RHA CEOs also stay in the boardrooms, blind to the realities of the very institutions of which they are in charge.

It is this that has primarily caused the problem of non-functioning CT apparatus in any one of the major hospitals, and the latest, unfortunate casualty. But this tragedy could have been prevented had there been a proper coordination/management team from the Ministry of Health and all the RHAs.

In 1999-2000, POS General Hospital had two CT machines. Twenty years later you can’t find even one functioning CT machine at any of the six major hospitals in the country. That is truly an abomination! By now, each public hospital should have had at least two functioning CT, as well as MRI, machines.

The time has therefore come for urgent introspection into the whole question of implementing urgent reform of the RHA system. Incidentally, this was established in the 1990s, under former Health Minister John Eckstein, who had followed a pattern initiated by Britain.

It served its purposes, but is now clearly outdated. Britain has since moved two to three steps beyond that, in terms of their provision of universal free health care.

The Government must therefore now examine whether T&T’s health sector should instead have two RHAs in Trinidad and one in Tobago, instead of this existing overflowing of personnel in one RHA to another without proper, effective coordination by the Ministry of Health, and the separation of doctors.

The time has also come to concentrate specific areas of medical care into various hospitals for specialization, namely Orthopaedics, Neurosurgery and ENT, the same way we did in the late 1990s, when we made the Mt Hope Medical Complex the Centre for Paediatrics in North Trinidad.

Health, you see, is a bottomless pit and the T&T Government cannot keep pouring money into it without the adequate and proper management of the sector.

Not in these fragile, unpredictable economic and social times. It will simply crumble and self-destruct. And innocent citizens must no longer continue to be the collateral damage of this disaster, and pay with their lives.