Nurses unimpressed by budget $$ for health

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

President of the TT Registered Nurses Association Idi Stuart leads protesting nurses outside the Scarborough General Hospital. File Photo by David Reid

Idi Stuart, president of the TT Registered Nurses’ Association (TTRNA) says since 2016, the ministries of Finance and Health have been focused on “large capital expenditure projects,” but, even after spending so much money, those facilities were not operating efficiently.

“While both the Ministry of Health and Finance Minister would highlight the individual services that these buildings are supposed to offer, we at the association fully well know that all of these buildings are operating way below capacity.

“The human resource is not there to operate these buildings that were at great expense to the taxpayer. The majority of them are operating between 50 to 70 per cent capacity, if so much.”

Stuart was responding to Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s presentation of the 2024 national budget in Parliament on Monday.

Although Stuart was disappointed with Imbert’s statements on the public health sector, it received the second highest allocation at $7.409 billion, with education and training topping the list with $8.022 billion.

The allocation was an increase from last year’s $6.892 billion.

Imbert said for decades the PNM administration had been expanding the public health system to “provide free access to a range of health solutions and services for citizens at levels unavailable in many other advanced, emerging and developing countries.”

He announced the 540-bed Central Block of the Port of Spain General Hospital will be completed in March 2025 and the 106-bed Sangre Grande Hospital was near completion. He said it will cost the government $1.1 billion and will provide a full range of services.

He added that in August 2022, the Roxborough Hospital was outfitted at the cost of about $130 million and provided medical services such as surgical, accident and emergency, dialysis and a hyperbaric chamber for diving emergencies.

Imbert added that the new Ministry of Health administrative building at Queen’s Park East, Port of Spain is expected to make public health care management more efficient and save the government millions of dollars in rental costs.

He said the building was constructed through a public-private partnership at a cost of $280 million, will house 800 employees and included a two-storey carpark with 282 spaces.

In addition, Imbert said in the past four years, TT achieved World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization benchmarks for maternal deaths, and met regional and global sustainable and developmental targets for neonatal mortality rates, both ahead of schedule.

“We have adopted a multidisciplinary approach for sustainable solutions towards preventing, managing and controlling the burden of mobility, mortality, and disability due to non-communicable diseases.

“We seek to ensure that the population can reach the highest sustainable standards of physical and mental health, quality of life and productivity at every age. We are committed to ensuring that those diseases will no longer be a barrier to well-being, and social-economic development in the country.”

Stuart said the TTRNA would have to wait until Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh presented his part of the budget debate, as Imbert did no give much detail in his presentation.

“By the Finance Minister only mentioning the Central Block of the Port of Spain General Hospital, it indicates that nothing substantial will be coming from the Minister of Health.”

He said the association was thankful that the Central Block was progressing, as it was protests by the TTRNA in 2018 that helped bring about its reconstruction after it was damaged by an earthquake. But he pointed out that the Health Ministry’s administration building was not part of the government’s plan in 2018, yet it was completed before the hospital wing.

He dismissed Imbert’s mention of the other hospitals, as they had been “part of every single budget statement since 2016,” but was glad they were complete or near completion.

Stuart added that he would like to hear Deyalsingh speak about the National Oncology Centre, which was supposed to be completed in 2015, the Health Information System, and any progress the ministry had made on NCDs and primary health care with the funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.

“We would like to see the evidence that the government has taken a different perspective and in terms of spending money on buildings. Let us get the information, let us get the data, the statistics to see how this has positively impacted on the health of the citizens. Or is it that we are just providing beds?”