File photo: Nurses, from left, Lakeisha Pierre, Chiemeka John-Augustine, Mala Rama Williams and Earla Williams. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE
HEALTHCARE workers, such as nurses and patient care assistants, will be given about one month’s pay in gratitude for their service during the covid19 pandemic, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said on Wednesday.
He was speaking to the Standing Finance Committee of the House of Representatives.
Fyzabad MP Dr Lackram Bodoe had asked about a $180 million allocation in the ministry’s draft estimates of expenditure for budget 2023 under the sub-head of other transfers: regional health authorities (RHAs).
Deyalsingh replied that the figure was the allocation to four RHAs in Trinidad – with the Tobago RHA being allocated separately – to make up the $210 million in ex-gratia payments to health workers promised by the Government.
He said each worker’s allocation would be basically “one month’s full salary.”
In reply to queries, Deyalsingh gave various updates on his ministry. Asked about a $1.2 million jump in the ministry’s electricity bill allocation from $2.2 million last year to $3.4 million for fiscal 2023, he attributed this to uncertainties as the ministry awaited a new headquarters.
Asked about a $6 million rise in contract employment allocation from $105 million last year to $111 million in fiscal 2023, he said more interns were being hired.
Caroni Central MP Dr Rishad Seecheran asked about past promises to regularise the tenure of nurses on contracts.
Deyalsingh replied that the CPO and Nurses’ Association had not yet settled their wage talks.
Amid cross-talk about the mental stresses of life in a pandemic, he said the ministry’s EAP programme had been used by 36 staff or their family members at a cost of $165,000.
Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee asked if a $12 million drop in allocation to buy drugs was reasonable, from $253 million last year to $241 million this year.
Deyalsingh replied yes, reasoning that much of last year’s expenditure had been on covid19 pharmaceuticals which would not have to be repeated in 2023. By way of example, he said while the Government has sourced 40,000 paediatric vaccines, many parents had not brought their children for vaccination. He said Sinopharm and J&J vaccines were still available as boosters for the elderly and the immunocompromised.
Boddoe asked about a possible redistribution of allocations of $1.5 million to the Cancer Society and $400,000 to the Diabetes Association.
Deyalsingh said the sums were to support these associations’ programmes, with the government otherwise supporting diabetes care by free drugs. He disclosed those sums as part of an overall $18 million allocation to non-profit organisations, after similar sums the two years earlier. Other beneficiaries included the Living Water Community, Rebirth House, Breast Feeding Association, Autistic Society, Society for Inherited and Severe Blood Disorders, and Horses Helping Humans.
Replying to Bodoe, Deyalsingh said Couva Hospital would revert to UWI to provide research and teaching capacity, and wouldprovide may opportunities for employment and treatment.
With Infrastructure Development Fund documents showing $77 million in 2023 to build the Sangre Grande Hospital, on top of $25 million for each of the past two years, Deyalsingh revealed the total cost as $1.1-$1.2 billion. He said it was now 60 per cent complete and should be ready in the first or second quarter of 2023.
Seecheran said the minister had previously estimated the cost respectively at $850 million (in 2018) and $1 billion (in 2019).
Deyalsingh blamed cost escalations due to covid19 and the war in Ukraine, noting the rising cost of steel beams and of hiring a shipping container, which had risen from US$4,000 to US$18,000.