UNC: Government hospitals are ‘white elephants’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Caroni East MP Dr Rishad Seecheran. – AYANNA KINSALE

CARONI EAST MP Dr Rishad Seecheran on January 26 described hospitals recently built by the Government as “white elephants” in his private motion in the House of Representatives criticising the running of the public health service.

He said huge sums were spent on the structures, but these hospitals then lacked adequate staff, IT systems, drugs, equipment and facilities to function properly.

“Our healthcare services are failing our citizens. We, on this side, are on the ground, in the villages and the communities.”

He said each Tuesday on his constituency day he hears the lament of constituents seeking healthcare.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, in an immediate reply in his speech, flatly denied the new hospitals were white elephants.

Seecheran said Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s vision had been to build the state-of-the-art Couva Hospital, which he said became a “Noah’s Ark during the storm of covid19,” saving thousands of lives.

“Other countries around the world used tents as their hospitals.”

He said, “The People’s Partnership (PP) invested in the San Fernando Teaching Hospital and turned the sod on the Arima and Point Fortin Hospitals, as well as the Nursing Academy.” Clinics had extended opening hours under the PP, he related. Seecheran said UWI, St Augustine was producing fantastic doctors who excelled globally.

“But they need support from the Government. Drugs, supplies, lab reagents, diagnostic equipment are all lacking. Doctors are unable to do the job they wish to do.

“This Minister of Health has built white elephants around this country – the Arima Hospital at $1.6 billion, the Point Fortin Hospital at $1.3 billion, the Sangre Grande Hospital at $1.1 billion, and the Central Block of the Port of Spain General Hospital at an estimated $1.27 billion.”

Seecheran said doctors were stopped from complaining about their jobs in the public health sector by non-disclosure agreements plus fear of victimisation and job loss.

He said Government Senator Avinash Singh had recently said $6.8 billion and $7.4 billion were allocated respectively to the health and education sectors, but something else was happening, in an apparent allusion to discontent. Seecheran said hospital staff had misplaced the file on Singh’s grandmother.

“Citizens are having major issues accessing services.”

He recalled testimonies from patients at a recent public consultation on healthcare.

“Some stated they waited up to seven hours to see a doctor, staff members being extremely rude to patients, and patients not being able to access drugs, and being told to come back because their file was lost.”

Seecheran urged the Government to hire more doctors, to reduce the burden on those now in the health service.

Noting Deyalsingh’s lament over shortages of specialist doctors, he said Trinidad and Tobago does have such doctors but many are now migrating.

He blamed this on crime – similar to crime deterring foreign investment – plus poor working conditions.

Seecheran lamented that nurses were on low wages and were only hired on contract and so could not qualify for a mortgage or buy a car.

“The Minister of Health continues to deny we are having an exodus of nurses in our healthcare systems, due to poor salaries and working conditions.”

He said the Nursing Association said TT is short of 3,799 nurses. With new hospitals coming on stream, the country may need even more nurses, Seecheran said.