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Eye department at Mt Hope under probe

Minister: Doctors luring patients to private practices
Friday, July 6, 2012
Chairman of the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) Dr Lackram Bodoe, right, shakes hands with Dr Randall Olson of the University of Utah while Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, centre, looks on. The exchange of greetings took place during yesterday’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for ophthalmology training at the San Fernando General Hospital and the University of Utah. The signing took place at the ministry’s office on Park Street, Port-of-Spain. PHOTO : SHIRLEY BAHADUR

The Ophthalmology Department at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope, is under investigation in wake of allegations that doctors have been luring cataract patients away from the hospital into their private practices. Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan yesterday confirmed the probe, adding the department might soon face permanent closure. Khan was speaking to members of the media after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for ophthalmology training at the San Fernando General Hospital and the University of Utah at the ministry’s office at Park Street, Port-of-Spain. “I am upset and I am disappointed in the Eric Williams’ Ophthalmology Department. They are very inefficient and they are not doing as much as they could do. “I am seriously thinking about closing down that department and sending everybody down to San Fernando,” Khan said. The Health Minister, who said he did not want to divulge specific details of the issue, however, branded the doctors  assigned to the Mt Hope department as inefficient. “If you look at the figures and the waiting times and clinic appointments... it is horrible,” he added.


Asked whether the lack of resources was the problem Khan said the doctors there “have everything, including  resources.” He added: “They have the resources, they have everything. I know exactly what is occurring at Eric Williams; I don’t want to come out and say exactly what it is at this time... but I am investigating what is taking place and you may have to shutdown something to make it better.” The waiting list at the Mt Hope facility for cataract surgery, Khan added, was 2016 and “ongoing.” He said: “There are not enough cataract surgeries done at Mt Hope. When you compare it to San Fernando it is chalk and cheese and even when you compare it to Sangre Grande.”
He, however, ruled out disciplinary action against doctors at the department. “I can only do what I can do as a minister. Send things to where it is efficient and close down what’s inefficient,” he said. Questioned whether the closure of the department would increase the backlog at San Fernando General Hospital Khan said he was planning to construct a dedicated centre at the Mt Hope facility which would focus specifically on eyes. “Just like the John Moran Eye Centre located at the University of Utah... you could have a Trinidad and Tobago eye centre located there. “We have been speaking about the private/public relationship for a while and this could be one of them,” Khan added. If the Ophthalmology Department in Mt Hope is closed this will result in patients having to go to the San Fernando General Hospital for treatment and surgery. Questioned whether that move was prudent, especially for the elderly, Khan said: “Cataract surgery is done on an older age group and they have free bus service.”


How it works
Patients seeking cataract surgery at the Ophthalmology Department at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope, would be normally told the earliest available appointment was either in 2015 or 2016, due to the long waiting list, senior doctors said. The patients, however, were then given the names of doctors in private practices who could assist in doing a speedy operation. “But what the patients don’t know is that these very doctors are already employed at Mt Hope,” one senior doctor said. When the patients went to the private practice of the doctors the patient was told the surgery could be performed within days, it was stated. Those who cannot afford to pay are given a letter to take to the Health Ministry, stating if the patient does not undergo the surgery he or she would go blind. The doctor added: “The ministry will then approve of the funds and a cheque is then written out to a private nursing home where a doctor, already employed at Mt Hope, will perform the surgery at the nursing home. The doctor then gets two salaries, one from the nursing home he is privately employed with and the hospital. “The cheque is always close to $15,000 as it covers the doctor’s fee, the fee of the nursing home and the cost of disposables, including gloves and surgical knives.”


Clinical audits needed—MPATT
Errant doctors must be weeded out of the health care system and dealt with. Hence the importance of clinical audits as they would give a detailed report on the performance of each doctor within the various regional health authorities, said president of the Medical Professional Association of T&T Dr Shahnaz Mohammed yesterday. Saying since MPATT’s inception in 2002, there were calls for clinical performance audits, Mohammed added: “The majority  of doctors in the service are dedicated. The audits, however, would isolate the ones who are not performing.”


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