Basil A Ince

Britain has been hard hit by the Covid-19 virus and to date over 25 million people have been infected and the 200,000 death-mark is rapidly approaching.

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, recently announced on the BBC the opening of a field hospital in East London. The institution is Nightingale Hospital named after the famous nurse, Florence Nightingale. The Prince, still recuperating from a Covid-19 attack, made this announcement from home.

The camera shifted to the hospital and what I saw and heard blew my mind. Obviously I had been looking too long at CNN and MSNBC in the United States where the federal government, led by its brilliant president, was locked in battle with state governors while the governors were competing among themselves for personal private equipment (PPE) – gloves,masks (N95), and ventilators – so vital for doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel.

The Nightingale hospital has been described as a “logistical and engineering marvel” and can accommodate 4,000 patients. It was built in nine days by 200 soldiers, carpenters, and volunteers working in long shifts alongside National Health Service (NHS) staff and contractors. A diagram of the hospital which is split into two wards includes inter alia 4,000 beds, a pharmacy, and two temporary morgues. At full capacity it is to be staffed by 16,000 health care workers who will sleep at nearby hotels.

The hospital is starting with 500 beds. What is interesting from a Trinbagonian perspective is that other hospitals built along the Nightingale model will be located at Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Harrogate but they will be of varying sizes, the smallest accommodating 500 beds.

Wouldn’t the Nightingale concept be something we could adopt here? Since Covid-19 the Government has been doing an excellent job – the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, and the chief medical officer. They have been ably supported by first responders, doctors, nurses, and other personnel working under difficult conditions. But if someone slips up at the Couva hospital, an aggrieved patient is ready to “mash up the place”. And if recovering patients are to be located somewhere, logs are placed in the road to prevent the transfer. At that rate there will be no place in T&T to which recovering patients could be transferred.

Long before the advent of Covid-19, we read of problems at our major hospitals – overcrowding, no beds, patients in the corridor etc. Is this not the perfect opportunity to fix these problems? The scientists say this Covid-19 issue will be with us longer and more often than we’d like to think. We should be able to get our soldiers to construct two field hospitals each with 150 beds, one in the North, the other in the South both under the supervision of the Ministry of Health .

However, our soldiers are not trained like the British. The latter are multi-skilled soldiers who belong to the Corps of Royal Engineers in a fashion analogous to the US Army Corps of Engineers. They are engineering technicians, architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, fabricators, carpenters and tradesmen. But we do have that type of personnel here at the university and elsewhere in private practice. The issue is whether they would want to undertake that sort of exercise.

I have always maintained that we are a talented people but the Minister of Health and the chief medical officer surprised me when they referred to the range of medical specialists we have. And then I’ve seen others writing in the newspapers in their areas of specialty.

A couple of days ago a young male nurse was interviewed in the United States. He had been infected with the virus and recovered. Now he was going to another state where the infected rate was skyrocketing – to help. I ventured to think “that would never happen in Trinbago.” I erred. I read about newly graduated doctors in T&T who vacated their parents’ homes to join the struggle against Covid-19. They are assisting in hospitals and do not want to return to infect their loved ones. There are young patriots in this country and they must be commended.

Many are complaining because of the hard times brought on by Government restrictions because of Covid-19 – taxi drivers, small businesses, and even the big banks that declared huge profits when the going was good. Government is assisting how it can and big businesses including the banks should make a humongous effort to fund something like the Nightingale model. It will be a project for the greater good and this is as good a time as any.

If not now,when?

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