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Patients made to pay for private visits
A private-practice scandal has been unearthed at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC) at Mt Hope. A T&T Guardian investigation has revealed that private clinics at the complex are being run by 12 doctors, who are employees of the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA).
Investigations further revealed that several of the doctors are no longer attached to the EWMSC, but continue to run private clinics there. Some of the doctors receive monthly salaries ranging from $22,000 to $28,000 from the NCRHA, as well as earning thousands of dollars from the private clinics. The T&T Guardian learned that on a daily basis up to 50 patients visit the private clinics and the doctors’ fees range from $300 to $500. The private clinics are open from 8 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday.
A copy of the private-practice doctors’ schedule as of this month obtained by the T&T Guardian showed 15 per cent of fees from the private clinics are paid to the NCRHA. It was further discovered that the medical equipment used by the doctors to run their private clinics is the property of the EWMSC. According to the private-practice schedule, the doctors specialise in:
• Cardiology (five doctors)
• General surgery
• Internal medicine
It was in 2004 that former prime minister Patrick Manning, in his October 8 Budget presentation, announced that with effect from January 1, 2005, services at the EWMSC would be free to all citizens. The state-run institution previously operated like a privately-owned hospital at the expense of taxpayers because doctors employed at the EWMSC were allowed to run private clinics there.
Investigations found that patients are still being made to pay for medical services that should be accessible free of charge. Some patients seeking medical services at the EWMSC are being advised to visit the private practice of the doctors to obtain treatment at a cost. In several of the cases, investigations found patients are being told to visit the private clinics of the doctors to avoid having to be placed on a long waiting list.
However, patients classified according to life-threatening/critical cases are expected to be given priority at all medical institutions. Further investigations revealed that on the basis of triaging, the patients being referred to the private clinics are deemed to be non-critical. For instance, in one case the T&T Guardian found a patient had been referred to the private clinic to remove a fatty tumour.
When the T&T Guardian visited the EWMSC last week, an elderly patient who identified herself as Shirley Basdeo claimed she was told to visit the private clinic of one of the doctors to get a second opinion. Basdeo, 60, was admitted to EWMSC after complaining of stomach pains. “The doctor gave me back the X-ray and said nothing is wrong with me, but he told me to come to his clinic on Friday for a second opinion,” Basdeo said.
“So I have to make up $450 for the visit.” Several other patients, investigations found, had also been referred to the private clinic for treatment. When the T&T Guardian contacted Health Minister Fuad Khan in Washington, DC yesterday, where he is attending a conference, he expressed outrage over the situation. Not mincing words, Khan said on his return he is immediately going to “put out” the doctors who are no longer employed at the complex.
The minister said he had requested a report on the matter and had been informed it had been sent to his ministry. “What I understand is that the doctors are asking the patients to pay a fee to see them. This should not be, and I am going to act on my return. I am going to ask anyone who is not associated with the EWMSC on a full-time basis to vacate the office so more clinics can be set up.” Khan said several doctors who are no longer attached to the EWMSC were still running the private clinics.
“The doctors were allowed to run the private clinics before citizens were able to access free services,” he said. “It is wrong, and I am going to ask citizens who are approached by doctors to pay for services to report it to my ministry. It cannot be when a doctor leaves EWMSC he is allowed to run a private clinic. The EWMSC is a free medical institution and patients must not be made to pay for services,” Khan said.
The minister said he has also instructed that notices to vacate be served on doctors who have been illegally occupying the housing quarters for interns at French Village, Mt Hope, which was reported in the T&T Guardian exclusively last Monday.
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