After more than a year since being excluded from performing HIV tests for work permit applicants, local medical clinics have resumed the tests, apparently with the silent consent of the government and the regulatory body of medical practitioners.
However, there has been no official announcement either from the Immigration Department or from the Cayman Islands Health Practice Commission about the shift in policy. Neither entity has responded to numerous requests for clarification on the issue. Cayman Islands Medical and Dental Society president Dr. Wilbert Veit sent an email to the chief immigration officer on Oct. 20, seeking clarification on behalf of the council regarding who can conduct the work permit HIV tests.
“There is no statement on the immigration web site referencing and refuting the prior policy of restriction to seven labs,” Dr. Veit’s email said. “A number of our member doctors have reported significant negative impact to the income of their practices due to the confusion resulting from the government’s continued silence on this issue.”
The email continued: “The [Cayman] Compass has been continuing to ask for statements from [the medical and dental society], but we have so far deferred, still preferring this to be resolved internally through your department.”
Immigration has never responded, and the chief immigration officer, Linda Evans, to whom the email was sent, was placed on leave as of Dec. 1 over various administrative issues under investigation in the department. Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith has not responded to requests for comment about the issue.
In November 2013, it was announced that blood test results required for the approval of work permits can be obtained from only seven medical labs – six in Grand Cayman and one in Cayman Brac. The seven labs were on the Health Practice Commission’s approved list of registered healthcare lab providers. They were 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 then-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.”
In the shift of government that occurred in 2013, the members of the Health Practice Commission were replaced, placing Dr. Ruthlyn Pomares in charge of the commission. Dr. Pomares has not commented on the issue either.
“The prior directive on the immigration web site…remain[s] in the public’s mind since no public announcement regarding the change in policy has been made,” Dr. Veit’s letter indicated.