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SWRHA CEO Dr. Brian Armour

The chief executive officer of the South-West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA), Dr Brian Armour, says he will look into claims that certain doctors are asking patients to pay for Computerised Tomography (CT) scans at private facilities as the equipment at the San Fernando General Hospital is down.Responding to questions from Guardian Media at the SWRHA’s virtual public board meeting on Thursday, Armour said the hospital has two CT scanners.

He said there is a 64-slice scanner in the Emergency Department that medical staff use for emergency, in-patient and outpatient cases.

The hospital received another 64-slice scanner earlier this year for its Radiology Department, but it is awaiting commissioning by the Ministry of Health. The SWRHA caters to 600,000 citizens in a geographical expanse that covers more than one-third of Trinidad.

Last year, the surgical teams performed over 15,000 surgeries. In a recent case, a 67-year-old woman went to the hospital last week for a post-operation evaluation. After waiting for over four hours, a nurse called her into the ward. After the doctors reviewed her case, they told her to visit a private facility for a CT Scan as the machine at the hospital was not working.

The pensioner said a recent procedure at a private hospital depleted her savings and she still had to go to the hospital for a surgery which required expensive post-operation medication. She said it was hard to find thousands of dollars more to pay for a CT scan.But Armour said asking patients to pay for medical care is not an SWRHA policy. “I am not immediately aware of that. It is not the policy of the SWRHA. Persons are entitled to receive healthcare free of charge. We take note of the question and can look into that matter further, but I am not aware of that phenomenon occurring. The CT scanners are operating at this time,” Armour said.

He said the machine began experiencing problems earlier this year and eventually shutdown. The SWRHA had it repaired in March.Armour said, “All equipment has challenges. The CT scanner, initially earlier in the year as far as I can recall, was down for a little while because of an issue with the tube. That was repaired since on or around March this year, and the uptime has been virtually 100 per cent. We actually have one CT scanner at the Emergency Department, and we have a second CT scanner machine that is awaiting final commissioning by the Ministry of Health so soon we will have not one but two CT scanners.”

SWRHA treated COVID-19 patients

Although the meeting was to account for 2019, Armour covered the SWRHA’s COVID-19 response, saying that it treated 20 confirmed cases in negative-pressure isolation rooms and transferred them to the Couva Hospital. He said, SWRHA established Incident Command Systems in each county and repurposed a ward as the designated area for treatment and care of suspected COVID-19 cases. He added that the refurbished laboratory at the San Fernando General Hospital now has the testing platform technology for the COVID-19 machine, which is also awaiting commissioning by the Ministry of Health.In reviewing 2019, SWRHA chairman Dr Valerie Alleyne-Rawlins said the region’s five emergency departments had 254,489 patient visits as compared to 262,648 in 2018. Among its accomplishments, Alleyne-Rawlins said the Board of Directors oversaw the reduction of telephone expenditure, increased nursing staff, reduced the abuse of overtime, introduced cost-effective meal combinations and reduced medical equipment rental costs by procuring surgical equipment.