President of the Women’s Arm of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, Jenny Rapier is challenging a recent statement made by Health Minister, Nicholas Steele that the Ministry of Health has surpassed the quota of doctors needed in the system.
Minister Steele also announced that the figures are now up to 51 and that the ruling New National Party
(NNP) government has finally resolved the many issues affecting the hospital.
“As we understand it there are only 31 doctors available to service the three hospitals within the tri-island state (the General Hospital and Princess Alice on the mainland and Princess Royal on the sister isle of Carriacou),” Rapier told reporters during the weekly NDC press conference held last Wednesday.
According to Rapier, the party has information that “the Ministry has lost three of our local doctors, which doesn’t include those who went away to study (and) has hired five Cubans.”
“There is a total of 37 house officers available to serve all three hospitals”, she said, adding that “the General Hospital should have 45, Princess Alice 6 and the Princess Royal 2 (but) Princess Alice is back to having three doctors and Princess Alice, one.”
Additionally, she claimed “the nursing stock has not improved much either” although Minister Steele has said that “he was going to be bringing in nurses every two weeks beginning at the end of (last) November, when they hired the first 13.”
“From what I have heard and from my investigations … they still have a shortage of nurses at the (General) Hospital and they (the nurses) are still operating under the same conditions more or less,” Rapier said.
Without being precise, the female NDC executive member also pointed to a serious issue of “bed bugs in one of the wards at the hospital, (where) 20 beds are out of commission.”
Rapier said “the last time bed bugs of this magnitude were seen in Grenada was before hurricane Janet in 1955.”
Another disturbing issue for the NDC is the housing of patients in the dining area of the male and female surgical wards.
“The dining area in the male surgical keeps beds for patients…in the female surgical dining area the situation is the same, only the patients in the female dining room are male patients,” Rapier said.
Rapier also told reporters that the country’s main hospital “operates with one Pathologist” and the “two Radiology technicians (X-Ray and Ultra Sound) continue to complain about being over worked, doing overtime on-calls, and even at the end of that have to struggle to get payment for their overtime, months at a time.”
According to Rapier, “there is also a limit as to the amount of overtime they can do and get paid for and when that time is over it’s all up to them whether or not they decide to go out in the event of an emergency (but) it would be done for free (because) they would not be paid once their quota has passed.”
She also pointed to a “concern raised by doctors and nurses” relating to the payment structure for oncology patients, who need to receive chemotherapy, where patients need to pay for the treatment before it is received and if they can’t afford it then it is denied.”
“They (the nurses and doctors) are saying, once the medications are in supply and the patients have agreed to receive it, payment must be made prior to the scheduled treatment. In the event the patient cannot pay they are referred to a social worker for assessment on an individual basis with the hope of some agreement to be made to accommodate the treatment,” she explained.
Rapier questioned whether the payment structure “is an arbitrary management decision or a Cabinet decision (and) whether the decision passed through the legitimate process that governs the hospital fee scheduling.”
She acknowledged that “healthcare isn’t cheap and we don’t expect it to be free.”
However, the female NDC political operative expressed the view that “the system must not be an opportunity to exploit a certain sector.”
Pointing to the death last week Tuesday of a schoolteacher who was sourcing funds to seek medical attention abroad, Rapier called for the “immediate establishment of a fund to assist with and pay in full for treatment not available in Grenada when persons can’t afford it.”
She also called on “our youth, women (and) men to demand that action be taken,” stating, “Tomorrow it can be you or your child (and) tomorrow may be too late.”
Rapier went on to say that “the poor and the vulnerable, the ordinary man the hard working class individual continue to hold road shows and motorcades, walk-a-bouts, with donation sheets. We all know the drill – in an effort to try and save the lives of their love ones. As recent as yesterday a young school teacher succumbed to his illness as he laid in wait while his relatives and friends begged for funds so he can receive his treatment abroad. He died while waiting.
“We heard of a young cricketer from St. Mark’s begging for funds to go away to treat his cancer. The list is endless,” she said.
“We wonder whatever happened to the donation desk at the hospital …then we have the issue of national healthcare. How many of our people, our youth, the future of our nation, how many more must die before the decision is made to use funds from the NIS or some other source to pay for emergency care when needed,” she asked.
According to Rapier, the call from the NDC is for the Mitchell-led government “to increase the budgetary allocation for the public license health sector to do a complete overhaul of the administrative and management policies used in the public health system.”
“We wonder which hospital Minister Steele was referring to when he said (during a recent sitting of the Lower House of Parliament that) no government should contemplate building a new hospital until it is able to manage the one that it has, until it has found a solution that allows us to move forward to make sure that whatever we are to build, we can maintain (and) that it is sustainable.”
She also quoted Minister Steele as saying in Parliament, “Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce our assessment…that we are in discussions, looking at the (construction) of a new hospital breaking ground this year”.
“This is a reflection of a failed policy of healthcare, financing and delivering…”, Rapier told reporters.
“…We are saying that the announcement of the construction of a new hospital does not address the immediate problems faced by the health sector and therefore the NDC condemns the government’s attitude and disregard to the public health sector,” she said.