Sunday 2nd January, 2005

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Mt Hope takes on a bigger health burden

The Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex at Mt Hope, thrown wide open to the public on New Year’s Day, is on trial for its adequacy in delivering on official promises.

Patients who accept the invitation to Mt Hope will be participants in a decisive field test.

Nobody can know for sure what to expect, until he or she presents at the reception desk of a hospital in search of care.

Against that background, the public will evaluate Health Minister John Rahael’s assurance that all systems are ready yesterday for patients seeking free medical treatment at Mt Hope.

It might have come as a surprise to some citizens that services at a state health institution had been available to taxpayers on a fee-paying basis as at private


Prime Minister Patrick Manning broke that story in his October 8 budget speech. He evinced pride in the decision to end “an inequitable and pernicious system whereby” people in the Mt Hope neighbourhood received free services, while others paid.

“We shall put a stop to that,” Mr Manning vowed. From January 1, 2005, “all medical services including the use of the medical facilities offered at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex will be free to all nationals,” he announced.

With the freeing-up of the complex for all citizens from yesterday, Mt Hope has moved definitively into the mainstream of public health care.

Though Mr Rahael said everything was ready, he was careful about the assurances he did actually give.

“I have been apprised by the personnel at Eric Williams that everything is in place. We have adequate personnel and equipment and I expect that everything will move smoothly,” he said.

In the period since the budget, some muttering had been heard that Mt Hope might not be ready to deliver on the commitment grandly issued by Mr Manning.

In the New Year’s Day advertisement, the scope of the commitment was quickly narrowed down.

The Prime Minister had said it would be “free to all nationals of T&T.”

What the Health Ministry has offered, though, is a free service for only those people who had earlier called at public hospitals or health centres and had been referred to Mt Hope.

This is significant. As now arranged, the free service is meant obviously to benefit the citizens who resort to state hospitals and health centres, and this is good, as far as it goes.

It was not, however, what Mr Manning’s budget promises had led the country to expect.

And its implementation must question the reliability of grand prime ministerial declarations. Especially since no official explanation has come for this newly narrowed focus.

Mt Hope spokesman Charmaine Codrington has offered what only sounds like an explanation. She said the restriction of free care to patients referred from hospitals and health centres ensured Mt Hope would not be “overextending itself.”

In a current row over equipment supply, one senior doctor at Port-of-Spain General has claimed Mt Hope has been privileged by the NWRHA.

Obviously, however, Mt Hope officials do not see themselves as so privileged as to welcome patients walking in off the street, without public hospital screening, or those referred, say, from a private doctor’s office. Regardless of grand budget promises.


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