Life for 68-year-old Yvonne Alexander is an uphill battle.
This is because the X-ray machine at the Scarborough General Hospital has not been working for some time, so many ailing patients, including Alexander, have been turned away and told to come back at a later date.
An upset Alexander visited Newsday’s Tobago office at Shirvan Plaza, where she explained that for the past month, she has been in and out of the local health centre seeking medical attention for a swollen knee which is causing her great discomfort.
“I noticed the knee swelling so I have visited the Canaan Health Centre on numerous occasions. They have given me medication, two injections and the swelling has gone down, yes, but it is still paining me,” she said.
The pensioner said over the years she has had serious bone issues and, as a result, is concerned about the cause of the swelling.
Alexander said she visited the health centre on Tuesday and was given a referral letter, telling her she needs to have an X-ray at Scarborough General Hospital.
“They gave me a number to call in two weeks’ time to see if this machine is up and running. My knee is swelling. This is ridiculous. So, you are telling me I have to endure this pain for another two weeks? And even then I am not sure if this X-ray would be done.
“I told them I was going to the media. I gave them my warning, I said to them, ‘If allyuh want me to go further, I would do it.’ I asked to speak with the hospital administrator, as a matter of fact, anybody in authority, and they gave me a number to call, telling me that I needed to make an appointment to see these persons as well. That is not good enough.”
Newsday visited the hospital around midday on Wednesday and spoke to another patient who also encountered problems getting an X-ray.
Mary-Ann Thomas, who was accompanied by her sister Michelle-Ann, said she arrived at the hospital at 5.45am.
Thomas complained about serious pains in the left side of her back and wanted a diagnosis. She said they were both disappointed and left the hospital just after midday.
“After waiting, I only just saw the doctor. He told me to get an X-ray but when I went to the department, I was told the machine was not working and given a piece of paper with the contact number for the imaging department and told to call them in a week.”
Her sister said, “The healthcare system on the island is in shambles. It’s like nothing in this place works.”
Newsday tried to call new CEO of the Tobago Regional Health Authority Sheldon Cyrus as well as Secretary of Health Dr Agatha Carrington but calls to their cellphones went unanswered.
In May, Minority Councillor Dr Faith BYisrael called on Carrington to fix the healthcare system on the island “once and for all.”
BYisrael had said several of the machines at the Scarborough hospital were not working, including X-ray and MRI machines, CT scans and ultrasound machines.
She said the hospital also lacked chemicals needed for tests, as several of its service providers are owed money.
Carrington later told Newsday proper care continues to be provided.
She said, “Persons can continue to access care at the Scarborough General Hospital with the confidence that their health and well-being will continue to be treated as paramount. Despite challenges, the authority continues to provide proper care for clients.
"In cases where urgent care is required but cannot be provided at the Scarborough General Hospital, the authority facilitates and covers the cost of accommodating such clients at other health institutions.”
She admitted the breakdown of the CT scanner and X-ray machine had caused some challenges to doctors and patients, but said, “The authority assures members of the public that its technical personnel are working assiduously to rectify the malfunction issues with these machines. Consequently, urgent cases that require CT scans are outsourced, and urgent cases that require X-rays are done utilising a portable X-ray machine, which is stationed at the hospital.”
The authority has also had to outsource reagents to do biomedical tests.
She also said the senior managers were sent on administrative leave to facilitate a payroll audit, which is still ongoing.