Deyalsingh: UK wishes to partner on Central Block

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

HIGH HOPES: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, left, and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh enjoy the view of the city from the top of the new Central Block of the Port of Spain General Hospital during its official topping off ceremony on Monday. – Ayanna Kinsale

HEALTH Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said on Monday that British entities wish to get involved with aspects of the new central block at Port of Spain General Hospital. He was speaking to reporters at the on-site topping-off ceremony to mark the last pour of concrete for the rooftop, to complete the 13-storey block’s superstructure.

“We are already getting expressions of interest from partners outside of TT, as they have heard of this – from England especially – to be a part of this project.

“So it has ignited something very, very significant in the medical fraternity not only here but abroad.”

In his earlier speech, he described his hopes for the 540-bed block. “Its structure is not just for medical care but is testimony to how we are developing Port of Spain.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh shovel cement during the topping-off ceremony of the new Central Block of the Port of Spain General Hospital. – Ayanna Kinsale

“This structure is not only to provide medical care to people. It is a testament to how we are development Port of Spain and its environs – from pan theatres to the Ministry of Health head office, Diego Martin Health Centre and so on.” He said the hospital would befit the name of Port of Spain.

“We are going to turn this campus into the region’s premier teaching hospital. So it’s not only a place for treatment but it is going to be a place of learning, a place of scholarship. That is what this structure represents today.”

With the day marking the completion of package one, the superstructure, he told attendees that work on the remaining packages 2-6 was ongoing and in parallel.

He thanked the Prime Minister for attending, with the two men minutes later ascending in an elevator with site officials to visit the top floor.

Deyalsingh then told reporters the block should be fully open by March 2025, having previously merely said “the first quarter” of that year.

He said at this time the project was within budget, at $1.267 billion VAT-inclusive.

Asked if there was enough staff to fill the new facility when completed, he said the project has a commissioning plan and commissioning team which has been meeting for about a year. “We are working with training facilities like Costaat and all of those things to provide the manpower that you’re going to need.” However he said it will be done in a phased basis. “Everything will not open on the same day.” He said any hospital commissioning should start slowly due the the fact of several bugs needing to be worked out. “You commission department by department.”

He said teaching would be done by the University of the West Indies (UWI), Augustine. “Right now UWI runs what you call DM programmes. Those are postgraduate programmes – Doctor of Medicine – in 20 specialities. So we want to increase the up tick in those 20 specialities.” He said the DM Oncology had begun since January. “As I keep telling the population, the shortage is not with junior doctors. The shortage is with specialists and sub-specialists.”

He said TT lacks specialist medical staff such as paediatric cardiologists, MRI specialists and A&E nurses.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh walk near the new Central Block of the Port of Spain General Hospital during its official topping-off ceremony on Monday. – Ayanna Kinsale

“So the thrust is going to be to accelerate the development of specialists and sub-specialists.”

Replying to questions, he denied any mass exodus of nurses from TT.

“The figures do not support this talk about ‘fleeing’, ‘exodus’. There may be one or two, of which we don’t deny. But there has been no mass exodus.”

He said the new block will help with career advancement for staff.

“What our doctors and nurses want is a career path and the career path is through specialisation and sub-specialisation.”

At Deyalsingh’s invitation, POSGH medical director Dr Shaheeba Barrow, said TT is short of specialists in cardiology, nephrology and areas of radiology.

She said the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) was now recruiting ahead of the block’s opening.

Barrow said TT specialists in these aspects have hitherto trained abroad.

“You’d find we have a lot of our young, bright specialists who have done postgraduate work in England, UK, Australia, who are currently working there.

“I am hoping we can encourage them back here. It’s time we get back our sons and daughters and this is the place to be.”

Deyalsingh said the contractor building the construction’s superstructure – steel, concrete and sheer wall – known as “package one” was a local firm, Universal Structures Ltd. “That’s what our PM was saying, that we need to get our local contractors in on these big jobs.”

Packages 2-6 will be done by China Railway Company which built the new Arima Hospital, he added.

Asked if the new block would massively expand demand on his ministry’s annual recurrent expenditure, he said the increased costs would be “not significant.”

“We went from 400 beds (and) when this is up and running it is going to be 540 beds. So it’s not a massive increase. It’s going to be an incremental increase over time, as we commission different specialities.”

Reporters asked about a female pupil who was expelled from school for bad behaviour but who subsequently said she wanted to become a nurse. Deyalsingh said UWI postgraduate psychology students were setting up a counselling hotline for despairing individuals. He was very heartened she had apologised and urged her to learn constructively from her mistakes. “If she does the correct adjustments to her life, I think her future is very bright. Hopefully she learns from this experience and in life – I always tell people and tell my children – you learn more from your failures than your successes. How you stumble in life, it is not the stumbling that counts. It is how you get up. This young lady seems to want to get up and take her place in society. ”