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Milton Cato Memorial Hospital. (iWN file photo)
Milton Cato Memorial Hospital. (iWN file photo)
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Minister of Health St. Clair “Jimmy” Prince says his ministry is addressing an oxygen supply issue at Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH), but he is not aware that surgeries had to be cancelled, as a source has told iWitness News.

“There is a problem with the oxygen suppliers, yes — was — but they were never in a position where they couldn’t do medical procedures because they have a backup on the wards for A&E (Accident and Emergency) and for ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and for the operating theatre,” Prince told iWitness News on Wednesday.

“What they have done, they’ve put in a temporary mobile plant now – today,” he said, adding that the pump at the plant of one of the suppliers went bad.

“So, they immediately tried to remedy it because they didn’t want to run out. And we have also made arrangements to get, just in case, a contingency, to bring in from Trinidad and Barbados just in case that the plant doesn’t work,” Prince told iWitness News

He said there were no cancellation of medical procedures as a result of the oxygen supply, “as far as I know.

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“They’ve told me that they are okay until Friday. And by Friday, the temporary plant should be back up,” the health minister said and confirmed that the public health sector gets its oxygen supply “mainly from one supplier.

“But we also get from other suppliers. But there is only one other supplier in the country anyway and we just alternate between them, depending on what the needs are,” Prince said.

On Wednesday, a source informed iWitness News that even urgent medical procedures at the hospital had to be cancelled this week because of a lack of oxygen.

“They had to be begging around for people who supply oxygen to lend them,” the source told iWitness News, adding that even doctors were involved in the trying to procure oxygen.

iWitness News understands that the government buys all of its oxygen from one place and that that supplier’s facility “had been down for weeks”.

The source said that senior officials in the Ministry of Health knew about the situation, but some doctors were only told about it when they turned up to perform their medical procedures.

“They waited until it became an emergency.”

The source said that the hospital knew about the situation for long enough to have been able to procure oxygen from Barbados, which is located just 100 miles east of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“There is nothing being done. I am angry. If you or I end up in hospital we could die or end up with brain damage because of a lack of oxygen,” the source said.

The source said their understanding is that the situation existed for about a week but was kept “low key”.

However, it became public when this week, nurses and an anaesthesiologist had already put a patient “under” in preparation for a procedure, only to be told that it could not proceed because of a lack of oxygen.

iWitness News understands that when the hospital contacted another local supplier of oxygen, the supplier said that they had only enough for its customers, as the government does not buy from them on a regular basis.

That supplier said it was, therefore, difficult for them to fill in at short notice.

“The source opined that the situation arose because of the government’s “bad habit of taking money from the left pocket and putting it in the right”.

He said because of the shortage of oxygen, doctors only performed emergency procedures, “meaning you had to be dying to get an operation”.

Urgent procedures “such as a loss of limb, possibly, but which, if not performed immediately, were unlikely to result in death”, were postponed, the source said.

The source said that a 500lb cylinder of oxygen can keep the operating theatre going for five hours if patients are only under a ventilator.

“The rest of the hospital has had to make do with room air,” the source said, adding that there are small oxygen generators that concentrate room air.

“But they can do a maximum of 5 litre a minute. That is for patients who are recovering from general anaesthesia, asthmatics, or if they need a little oxygen in the emergency room.”

The source told iWitness News that this oxygen supply cannot be used for a patient who is sleeping in an operating theatre.

“This is like office oxygen that a doctor may use at their office,” the source said, adding that MCMH has about 15 of these generators and about 20 more are in a container in Georgetown.

One reply on “Officials addressing oxygen supply issues at hospital, minister says”

  1. 20 more in Georgetown! What’s new here. Folks in need of oxygen will die long before they get to Georgetown.

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