After months of complaints over poor working conditions and no positive response from health officials in Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), doctors and nurses attached to the East Bank Demerara Regional Hospital, commonly known as the Diamond Diagnostic Centre or Diamond Hospital, staged strike action on Wednesday. During the strike, the workers demanded that their concerns be addressed. Several elderly patients were among those turned away from the Diamond Hospital as a result the ‘sit-in’ which was observed by both medical and custodial staff.
Their complaints included the medical facility’s deplorable conditions observed since February of this year, coupled with repeated issues over drug shortages. Guyana Times understands that the staffers had been urging regional officials to look into their plight but their calls fell on deaf ear. However, after word spread of the sit-in, Region Four officials including the Regional Executive Officer (REO), Regional Heath Officer (RHO) and members of the Public Health Ministry rushed to the East Bank Demerara facility to hold an emergency meeting with the staff.
The meeting, which lasted some four hours, had heated exchanges between staff and health officials. The employees berated the hospital’s unsanitary state, with many saying their complaints prior to the strike were ignored. The staff reminded the officials of overflowing toilets, water leaking onto the floors from air conditioning (AC) units and no working AC units in the dressing room which could lead to spread of infectious diseases. “If you’re working in an environment where you have faeces pulping up, how the people gone get proper treatment?” one staff attached to the facility questioned.
Moreover, the doctors expressed their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs at the facility, noting their difficulties with having to inform their patients that much needed medications are unavailable.
“It’s rough having to tell people we do not have the drug or tablet, or strip that they need, and having to turn them away. It’s constant. This shortage is all the time. But it’s hard on us doctors because it bothers us to know that we know what is wrong with a patient but we can’t help them because we don’t have the right treatment. Then you got to send them away to buy it… and most of these people that come public hospitals can’t afford to buy medication,” a male doctor stated.
A female nurse said she has been employed at the facility for a number of years, and throughout the period, there have been many instances where they were forced to make complaints. She however claimed that this prolonged situation was the worst they have experienced. Some staff members were heard leaving the meeting in anger saying, “it’s the same nonsense and promises.” Wednesday’s strike action is not the first such action taken by staff as conditions at the facility have been in a similar state in the past.
At one point, former Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton had decried the Ministry’s Materials Management Unit (MMU) for not supplying drugs in a timely manner. In May last year, reports surfaced of deplorable conditions at the Diamond facility, including broken doors, non-functional air-conditioning units, leaking roof, insufficient equipment and medication in the ambulances, black mould forming on the ceilings and the lack of water.
The hospital’s issues continued into 2017 where in early January, it was reported that medical services at the facility were being hindered due to widespread short circuiting. Guyana Times had learnt that certain sections of the hospital were without power despite many attempts to have the situation rectified. Several pieces the machinery at the hospital, such as the ultra-sound and X-tray had been affected which at that time, caused the medical facility to close its doors to patients, attending to only emergency cases.
This newspaper had reported that wires sparked at the facility which had caused the staff much distress. The short circuit had prevented the lights and AC units in several of the examination rooms at the hospital from working properly.