By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE chilling and air-conditioning systems at Princess Margaret Hospital have faced another setback with a recent suspected sabotage attack on two units, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday.
Acknowledging that additional security measures will have to be implemented to prevent such incidents from occurring again, Dr Sands regretted that the public health sector will have to “divert resources for protection” - also referring to the recent IT attack that the Public Hospitals Authority faced.
Speaking during his budget communication in the House of Assembly, Dr Sands also addressed the issue of chronic bed shortages at the country’s three public hospitals. Dr Sands said a tender has been issued for replacement hospital beds as well as 75 additional beds.
“Mr Speaker, when I wrote this contribution, I was going to say that we have had no further problems with the chilling and air conditioning systems at the Critical Care Block at the Princess Margaret Hospital, but I spoke too soon,” Dr Sands said in Parliament.
“Two days ago, we had a serious challenge that may - may - be reflective of sabotage. However, I am pleased to report that we should soon have definitive replacement of two of the major chillers and it is expected that we will have no further challenges with the associated air condition systems in this building.”
Dr Sands clarified this incident in an interview with The Tribune following House proceedings.
When asked what led to the suspicion of sabotage, Dr Sands replied: “Well, on inspection of the units, there were some things out of place that could not be explained just by wear and tear. Obviously, this is subject to an ongoing investigation but the findings, at least with the initial investigation, seems to suggest that this may have been more than just an act of nature.”
He added one major chiller was completely out of commission while another was badly malfunctioning.
Regarding whether any measures will be put in place to prevent this from happening in the future, Dr Sands said, “I believe we have no choice. Certainly it’s a sad day when the assets of a public institution that cares for the people of the country finds itself under the possibility of such an attack. (PMH), the (PHA) would have recently suffered a major attack on its IT system. And we have still not fully recovered from that. We have seen these types of things for various reasons in the past and its unfortunate when you have to divert resources for protection. We anticipate that the additional firewalls and other software to protect our IT system could be in seven figures.
“When we now start to look at what we may have to do in order to segregate even more access to wires, grids, and so on and so forth for a simple air-conditioning cooling system…those are funds that could be used for medication, could be used of dressings, can be used for other things directly related to healthcare.”
Dr Sands declined to speculate on whether the perpetrators are PMH staff and the possible repercussions they would face should this be the case.
“We are committed to doing a thorough investigation,” he underscored. “Once that investigation is completed, let the chips fall as they may.”
During his address, Dr Sands also described the limited bed capacity in the nation’s public hospitals as a “major concern”.
“All three public hospitals have a combined inpatient complement of 1,010 beds. This is juxtaposed against the need to accommodate in excess of 21,000 admissions annually, totaling (270,000) annual patient days. This situation is felt most acutely by patients seeking care at the Princess Margaret Hospital. As part of a broader initiative to address the longstanding issue of chronic bed shortages, PMH along with the other PHA institutions issued a tender for replacement hospital beds.”
These areas include medical/surgical, ICU, behavioral health, birthing and bariatric beds, as well as paediatric cribs and patient stretchers in May 2019.
“It is anticipated that the short turnaround time for this tender, along with an expedient procurement process, will result in the new beds being installed within the hospital in a few short months.”
Dr Sands later told The Tribune 75 beds will be added.