Questions raised over work permit health exams

Controversy was building behind the scenes in the Cayman Islands medical community last week, following a decision to limit the number of facilities that can perform blood tests for HIV/AIDS on applicants for work permits.  

Starting Tuesday, blood test results required for the approval of work permits can be obtained only from seven medical labs, six in Grand Cayman and one in Cayman Brac.  

The seven labs are on the Health Practice Commission’s approved list of registered health-care lab providers. They are the labs at: Cayman Islands Hospital, Faith Hospital, Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, Medlab, Cayman Health, Phoenix Laboratory and TrinCay Medical.  

The reason for the change appeared to be that some health clinics were using test kits for HIV/AIDS testing, rather than submitting the blood for a full lab analysis, according to Health Practice Commission deputy chairman Marc Lockhart. 

Dr. Lockhart said that wasn’t the case with all clinics, and that the commission’s decision was no reflection on the professionalism of the health clinics. Rather, he said the commission was keen to observe a professional standard in administering the tests to work permit holders.  

“There are certain labs that have not been licensed to provide certain types of tests on the island,” Dr. Lockhart said. “In terms of keeping the quality…it is best to keep that standard with the established labs on the islands. 

“We’re not saying that you can’t [have a kit test]. We’re just saying, if it’s going to be accepted for a legitimate purpose from a governmental standpoint…then it needs to be done in a recognized, registered facility.”  

The Cayman Islands Medical and Dental Society was contacted for comment, but members declined, stating that they wish to address the issue with Health Minister Osbourne Bodden before “going to the press.” 

Minister Bodden said Friday that he was looking into the issue and thought initially that it was a decision made by the Immigration Department. Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans said that was not the case, and referred questions on the matter to the Health Practice Commission.  

Members of the Health Practice Commission, according to a government website, include chairman Dr. Steve Tomlinson, deputy chair Dr. Lockhart, Dawn Lewis, Rebecca Smith, and Hazel Brown [non-voting member]. 

At least one of the commission’s members, Dr. Tomlinson, has a financial interest in one of the medical facilities on the Immigration Department list, the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital.  

Contacted for comment last week, Dr. Tomlinson stated that it was his understanding the Cayman Islands Medical and Dental Society had gone to a local law firm regarding the matter.  

“I can assure you that they have no legal grounds to stand on,” Dr. Tomlinson said. He declined to comment further on the issue.  

Dr. Lockhart said these types of allegations are bandied about all the time in Cayman.  

He said commission members were simply following Cayman Islands law in narrowing the number of acceptable lab test facilities.  

“In an island of 22 x 7 miles and a population of approximately 60,000 people, when you’re looking to form boards with recognized professionals, it’s going to be extremely difficult if not impossible, to find people that you can say have 100 percent no possible conflict,” Dr. Lockhart said. “That’s impossible to find here.”  

Dr. Lockhart said a civil servant inspector works with the Health Practice Commission to monitor standards at testing facilities and is in no way under the control of the commission.  

Other medical facilities can be added to periodically revised lists of work permit-approved testing facilities maintained by the Health Practice Commission. The list of currently approved providers can be found on the Immigration Department website.