Public health care providers up in arms

Statement made by Minister of Health, Social Security & International Business, Nickolas Steele on the stand-off between Prime Minister Mitchell and healthcare workers at the St. George’s General Hospital

Fellow Grenadians,

I speak to you today on a matter of grave concern to us all – the current state of affairs in our public health care service. I would like to speak of the current dilemma we are faced with, in particular, the dilemma that has our public health care providers up in arms as a result of statements made at a town hall meeting in New York last Thursday, some 2000 miles away.

As a public official, I am always aware that sometimes, to some people, words mean more than actions and sometimes, statements can be offensive when taken in or out of context. In the democracy we hold near and dear, we cannot and will not, all share the same opinion.

That is a right we should fervently defend – the right to have differing opinions, the right to disagree on an issue.

I also believe that as a proud developing nation, we should always have national health care at the forefront of our public discourse.

With this in mind, I must say I am saddened that in recent days, the discourse on healthcare has been one of “he said, she said”, as opposed to the real issues of patient care in Grenada.

The fervour and offence taken by words uttered in Brooklyn appear to be misdirected. I started by saying we are all entitled to our own opinion and I express mine. In the course of a two-and-a-half-hour event in which much was said about healthcare in Grenada, the only takeaway by some, is a ten second statement which, in my opinion, has been taken out of context and blown out of proportion.

I hold our providers of healthcare, our doctors, nurses, orderlies, drivers and other ancillary service providers in high esteem. Many if not all, have provided and continue to provide yeoman’s service. I want the public discourse on healthcare in Grenada to remain in the forefront. I want it to be about and have included in that discourse, our very healthcare providers. I believe that the focus should be about the quality of patient care and how can we constantly improve on it.

As a public official, many times I have had statements made about me in public that I strongly disagree with or take strong offence to. In some instances, by the very healthcare providers who collectively, it is my primary mission to serve. I do not believe I have the right to withdraw my services or cause others to suffer because of such offences, whether perceived or real.

As a proud Grenadian and servant of the people I move on and forward. As such, I judge others under the same rules that I judge myself.

Let us have that discourse on health care; let us have meaningful debate about improving healthcare. Let us talk about the fact that yesterday it took a fully- functional ambulance two hours to get to someone in need; not for lack of equipment, not for lack of nurses, orderlies or doctors at our General Hospital but because of statements made some 2000 miles away, words; as well as a deliberate choice by some, to ignore all the other positive statements made about our health system and our healthcare providers in Grenada.

Should we not be discussing the fact that we have new ambulances on island and five more to arrive in the next month and how best we can have them serve our people? Shouldn’t we be discussing the soon to be commissioned phase two of the hospital and how best we can serve our people?

Shouldn’t we be discussing electronic medical records and how best it will serve us as providers of healthcare and our people? Shouldn’t we be discussing NHI, equipment on the wards, stocking of the pharmacy, budgets, HPV vaccination, and yes, our doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers? Should we care about words or actions – actions that benefit our people, patient care?

At the beginning of this term in office, I initiated dialogue with all the trade unions on what was meaningful to their membership with respect to healthcare in Grenada. In fact, the invitation was extended through the Grenada Trades Union Council.

At that meeting, meaningful discussions were had on the state of affairs of our health system and what was important to the membership of the unions present.

Sadly, the Public Workers Union (PWU), which represents most of the healthcare providers on island was not present, but I did not then, nor do I now, take offence. Instead, I publicly offer another opportunity to have such discourse with the TUC at a time convenient to them.

It would afford us an opportunity to update them on the developments since last we met and also allow for the PWU to participate in such dialogue. When it comes to healthcare, the discourse goes way beyond an employer – employee dialogue. We on our own, cannot solve all the issues relevant to the citizens of Grenada.

I admire the passion with which our health workers set about their jobs, especially today; I just believe that that passion is misdirected. Let us collectively and passionately, discuss patient care. In particular, let us discuss what some of our patients are saying about us, that in some instances is even more offensive.

Let us discuss how we are going to explain to the individual yesterday that he waited two hours in pain for an ambulance because of statements made 2000 miles away, last week. Let us look him in the eye and see what comfort it brings him.

I invite you to join me on that journey. I invite you to join me on the never-ending journey of seeking better health care for our citizens. I invite you to join me as I introduce to the team at the General Hospital, our new Director of Hospital Services, Dr. Carol McIntosh; an obstetrician/gynecologist, a Grenadian, in fact a Carriacouan, who has chosen to return and serve to improve patient care.

Let us talk scholarships and training and better working conditions for you and the people of Grenada. Let us talk about healthcare and in particular, patient care. If we adopt the attitude that every time we discuss healthcare in a public forum, and if per chance, something is said in that forum that we disagree with or find offensive, that we will “down tools” so to speak or to quote the new phrase, take a “stress break”, where will we go? Nowhere and nowhere fast, and who will suffer? Our patients.

Let us move forward together for better health care, better patient care and a better Grenada. I thank you.

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