Almost five months after the central block at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital was condemned and evacuated following the 6.9 earthquake—demolition and rehabilitation works are yet to begin.
President of T&T Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) Idi Stewart described the situation at the health facility as one which had reached “crisis point.”
On Friday, Stewart wrote to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley imploring him to prioritise the project.
Stewart questioned why were there plans to spend $850 million to build a new hospital in Sangre Grande when the existing facility was adequately meeting the needs of the residents of that district.
While Stewart did not dismiss the need for a modern facility in the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA), he said the hospital in the capital city needed urgent attention.
“Patients are being squeezed into the older part of the building which is more than 160-years-old and was initially poorly constructed.”
“They are being placed in units not designed for this large influx of patients.”
Stewart claimed six wards had been compressed to fit within the physical dimensions which previously only housed the Ear, Nose and Throat Ward.
This, he said, had led to severe over-crowding and provided an environment for possible cross-contamination.
Two weeks ago, the head nurses at the Casualty Department protested by staying away from work for one day to raise awareness and express their displeasure with the cramped conditions. Supervisors on duty had to pick up the slack.
A male nursing assistant and scrub technician claimed: “Due to the lack of available bed space, we have to hustle patients to leave before they are due to be discharged. I am not sure how detrimental that is in the immediate sense, but I know it is having a long-term effect because we have seen patients returning to us because complications have arisen and they come back for long-term care.”
He too criticised the move by hospital authorities to commandeer certain areas within the hospital to erect make-shift wards.
One such place was the waiting area where patients would usually wait to have their prescriptions filled outside the pharmacy.
A visit to the hospital last week confirmed the area was now a temporary ward with curtain dividers being used to separate patients.
Complaining about the lack of privacy for both the staff and patients, a female nurse with more than 12 years experience added: “Air-conditioned tents are now being used to store equipment and supplies because we have no space on the wards.”
“And yes, we are referring patients to other hospitals because our space is very limited now and we cannot accommodate them as before.”
Meanwhile, complaints of overcrowding and a lack of available beds have begun to emerge from the San Fernando General Hospital as well as the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, as patients from the Port-of-Spain hospital are being referred to them for treatment and care.
Stewart said plans had been discussed in September 2011, regarding the construction of the main block on the south-east corner of the present compound but this never came to fruition.
Indicating that users of the hospital were frustrated, Stewart said: “Staff and patients are agitated because it is an ongoing problem, it is a daily problem.”
“They are unable to get beds because they have moved from over 400 beds down to less than 100 beds, so they are remaining in the Accident and Emergency longer now.
“They also have to remain on trolleys longer too…everything is being affected.”
Accepting that the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) had been doing everything possible to ensure the comfort of the patients in their care, Stewart said non-essential services had already been transferred to the St James Infirmary.
However, he appealed to the Ministry of Finance to allocate direct funds towards the construction of a new central block which would provide a capacity of 540 beds.
While the staff are clamouring for some form of protest, Stewart issued a special appeal for them to hold strain.
However, he cautioned that a shut down might be looming if the authorities do not move to take immediate action to rectify the current situation.
Officials at the Ministry of Health confirmed receipt of an email requesting information relating to this matter, but no response was forthcoming up to Friday.
- by Anna Lisa Paul