Prime Minister Gonsalves Ralph Gonsalves and the Ministry of Health have given conflicting accounts in response to an iWitness News article about the ambulance in Chateaubelair not having enough fuel to take a gunshot victim to hospital in Kingstown on the night of July 1.
iWitness News reported on July 7 that the shooting victim had to wait five hours at the Chateaubelair Hospital for an ambulance from Kingstown, reportedly because the one based in the North Leeward town did not have enough gas to take him to the capital.
However, the Minister of Health, on July 8, issued a “Response to Incident of no gas for ambulance to take shooting victim from chato to k’town hospitals”, in which it denied that the ambulance did not have enough fuel.
“The Ministry would like to inform the general public that the report (as was circulated on social media) that there was no gas for the ambulance to take a shooting victim from the Chateaubelair Smart Hospital to Kingstown Hospitals is far from the truth,” said the statement, which was issued by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cuthbert Knights.
The statement said that based on preliminary investigation conducted by the ministry, “it is confirmed that the ambulance in question had sufficient gasoline to transport the patient to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.
“However, the Ministry is conducting further investigation into the matter to ascertain the reason why the patient was not transported to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital with the Ambulance stationed at the Chateaubelair Smart Hospital. The Ministry regrets any inconvenience caused as a result of this incident.”
The ministry, however, was issuing the statement hours after the prime minister said on his party’s radio station that the senior nurse in-charge of the hospital had told him that the ambulance did not have enough gas to make the 23-mile trip to the capital.
“Last night, the nurse who is in charge, the senior nurse who is in charge of the Chateaubelair district, told me something which upsets me very much,” Gonsalves said.
“That the ambulance in Chateaubelair had come to town with a patient. Naturally, if it is a full tank, you come to town and it goes back to Chateaubelair, it has fuel problems when it reaches back because it is 22 miles each way; that is 44 miles. Can it make another trip to come to town?” the prime minister said.
He said he had raised the matter that morning, July 8, with Knights.
“And he is explaining the process and he tells me he doesn’t understand how this thing would happen so I told him there are two ways in which it would happen: the individual or individuals who are responsible for addressing this question fell down on their responsibilities or the process which you have is absurd, cumbersome and not in tune with common sense,” the prime minister said.
“And, in a summary form, I tell him, ‘Permanent Secretary, explain to me how you could have a smart hospital and a dumb ambulance?’ So I tell him to get to the bottom of this and give me a report.”
The prime minister said he told the permanent secretary that if the system is flawed, he should say what would be done, administratively, to make that system better, or “if the system is fine and some person or persons fell down on their responsibilities, I want to know, and I want to know what you are recommending”.
The prime minister said he does not deal with personnel as that is the job of the permanent secretary.
“… but as the person who represents the interest of the people as a whole, I would want to know what you are suggesting. In other words, there must be a corrective, system and or personnel.”
After the shooting around 8:30 p.m., in Petit Bordel, the man was rushed to the Chateaubelair Hospital, located about a mile north.
The man received medical attention in Chateaubelair, where the medical staff concluded that he should be transported to Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, the nation’s main healthcare facility, located 23 miles south of Chateaubelair.
However, staff at the hospital said that the ambulance could not move, but did not give any indication as to why.
The ambulance in Chateaubelair, like all government vehicles in St. Vincent, has to get fuel from the government depot located in Cane Hall – 26 miles from Chateaubelair.
Gonsalves said that he was not sure if BRAGSA, the state company that dispenses fuel to government vehicles at its depot in Cane Hall, has arrangements with private gas stations.
“… as I said to the permanent secretary, if your vehicles are in the far distant places, it is not a question of BRAGSA having the relationship. It is the ministry. BRAGSA’s vehicles, by and large, are in the Kingstown area, so you can get from the BRAGSA source out of Arnos Vale…”
The prime minister, however, said that in the same way that a vehicle cannot leave Bequia, a Grenadine island, come on a boat to take gas at BRAGSA and go back to Bequia, “If you are in North Windward or Chateaubelair you can’t expect that either.
“This is why, without going into details, I put it down to the essentials: it is either the system you have and or the personnel in this instant case who fell down. And we spent all this money to turn Chateaubelair into a smart hospital and you then end up with a dumb ambulance.
“I put it in stark terms to the permanent secretary and I want people to know that things like that when they happen, my language here on the radio is measured but you know it is something on which I would kick up dust.”
After the governed issued the statement Friday night saying the ambulance had enough fuel, one source told iWitness News:
“I just saw an article stating that the ambulance had enough gas to take the patient to MCMH. So why did the ambulance that came for the patient from Kingstown bring gas to Chateau?”