Parliament committee told RHAs need diagnostic technicians

North Central Regional Health Authority CEO Davlin Thomas.
North Central Regional Health Authority CEO Davlin Thomas.

THERE is desperate need for diagnostic technicians in Trinidad and Tobago, and the CEOs of the four Trinidad regional health authorities (RHAs) are calling on the government to address this.

CEO of the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) Davlin Thomas addressed a Public Administration and Appropriations Committee enquiry into the availability of diagnostic imaging services at public institutions.

He said the government can offer scholarships to citizens to fill the gap. Training for stenographers and echo cardiographers are some of the things he believes can assist RHAs.

“Even if it means to sponsor some to train for two years and bond them for a five-year period as others are trained,” he said, which the CEOs of the other RHAs supported.

Thomas said there is a shortage of stenographers, as the service is in high demand and the RHAs are unable to offer competitive remuneration. He said they are hamstrung by both availability and accessibility.

Thomas’s statement came after the chair of the committee, Bridgid Annisette-George, asked what the government can do to ensure the RHAs meet their responsibilities.

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health Asif Ali made a similar call. Ali said the short term but unsustainable solution would be to hire foreigners to fill the gaps.

“One of the things we have to do will be to have a conversation with our training institutions – UWI, UTT, COSTAATT – to develop a plan to train a cohort to meet our needs, and then, going forward, our future needs.”

Thomas earlier said the training for diagnostic technicians is not available locally and training for one type of technician takes at least two years.

Diagnostic imaging includes ultrasounds, MRIs CT scans, echocardiograms and mammograms, among other scans.

Radiologist at the South Western Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) Anthony Ameeral said there are two MRI technicians in the region, which limits the service it can provide. With extended working hours the region managed to reduce waiting time from seven to three months for non-emergency services.

He told the committee the region was able to do 30,000 ultrasounds a year.

Thomas said junior doctors frequently requested ultrasounds for obstetrics and gynaecological services at health centres. The number of requests dropped after the RHA introduced specialists at primary-care level, so waiting time was reduced from nine months to six for non-emergency ultrasounds.

CEO of the North West Regional Health Authority Salisha Baksh said it had received an additional, portable ultrasound machine, but it has not been used as yet as the staff have to be trained to use it.

Ali said procuring diagnostic machines has been a challenge because of the pandemic, and some machines are far easier to access than others.

Each RHA said the down time for repairs for their machines is below five per cent thanks to their service contracts. They all have 24-hour access to repair technicians and at least biannual servicing. Baksh said her bill for servicing the MRI machine is higher than other RHAs' as the NWRHA has a containerised MRI which requires more work.

Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) CEO Ronald Anthony Tsoi-a-Fatt suggested some of the diagnostic services should be done at the primary level to ease the burden on hospitals. He said this would allow faster detection and treatment of many illnesses.

The RHAs said they partnered with each other so when one is without a particular diagnostic machine, they rely on another. An example of this was the ERHA using the NCRHA to do MRIs rather than outsourcing them to a private company. Baksh said the NWRHA outsources MRI services only in cases of emergency and to cut costs it only requests the imaging and has internal staff interpret the results.

MRI testing will resume at the Sangre Grande and Port of Spain General Hospitals when construction work on the two is complete, the CEOs of their respective RHAs said.


"Parliament committee told RHAs need diagnostic technicians"

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