THE Government of St. Lucia, headed by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and the St. Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) – perhaps the two most important factions that could see about the necessary improvements to the country’s healthcare system — are at loggerheads.
What started out as a request by the medical professionals to government – sometime back – to be included in talks about the country’s healthcare has now mushroomed, not surprisingly, into disgruntlement on the side of the SLMDA and apparent senselessness on the side of the government, to a point where animosity may soon takeover.
How could this have happened? And who or what could have stopped it from reaching the point it is at?
This environment of acrimony that has crept between the two sides must stop — and now. It is unhealthy and could very well lead to a faster downward spiral of the healthcare system, something that no one wants at this time. Yet no side seems willing enough to back-down or even tactically retreat.
Therefore it is at this point that I call for cool heads on both sides to take charge of the situation because, if left to simmer, it would eventually boil over and all of us will end-up as losers.
The health of the country is not something to play politics with. Both sides should be more accommodative of each other and not by word of mouth only, but also by showing a willingness to work together to deal with the many challenges confronting the country’s healthcare system.
The prime minister’s refusal to sit with the executive of the SLMDA last Friday could be summed up in one word: “Politics”.
There are many who will disagree with me – after all, hardcore supporters of the government will ‘see and hear no evil’ about their government – but I believe that the SLMDA is a body that would do the government well not to strike up a quarrel with and for obvious reasons…
Yes, the SLMDA’s executive could be called arrogant, haughty, egotistic, condescending or whatever by some, but it must be remembered that its members are crucial stakeholders as well in ensuring an efficient healthcare system.
The government’s number-one priority should always be the well-being of the citizenry of the country. And while this has several facets, the government must always remember that on the healthcare side of things, the vast majority of the citizenry who cannot seek medical attention outside St. Lucia are at the mercy of the SLMDA members.
Therefore when it comes to the SLMDA, the government should be going for unity and not disarray, and must also remember it is a representative of the entire citizenry. Consequently, as the representative of the people, it should not engage or give the impression that it is engaging in a quarrel with the SLMDA. This is bad for business — and by that I mean the healthcare system in the country.
What happened last Friday should not have happened. Granted, the prime minister earlier formally agreed to facilitate a meeting with the membership of the SLMDA for last Friday but instead was confronted with the executive only. But as disappointed as the prime minister may have been, and he is entitled to that, good sense should have prevailed on his part. He should have taken the opportunity to sit with the executive for an hour and iron-out one or two issues with them.
This would in no way belittle the prime minister. In fact it would have turned out to be a strategic move on his part, topped up with media coverage of him shaking the hand of the president and other members of the executive.
Remember, the prime minister had already set aside the time for meeting with the SLMDA membership. Therefore, an hour or so with the executive, even though he did not plan to meet with them, would have taken nothing out of his day. Not doing that has placed him at deeper odds with the SLMDA, something the prime minister should not be facing at this time. He has too much on his plate right now to have to deal with a group of healthcare professionals who are pissed-off with him.
Had the prime minister sat with the SLMDA’s executive, he could have made his own demands of them, including seeking an assurance that the executive would make its membership available to him in a forum whereby questions could be asked and answers given from both sides.
Our healthcare system is too fragile and too poorly managed for the prime minister to dismiss the executive for showing up at his office instead of the membership. So what? The expected membership did not show-up for the prime minister to chat with, is that reason enough to dismiss the executive?
This was one occasion when the prime minister played an unexpected card dealt to him badly. The SLMDA executive saw an opportunity to present themselves to the prime minister and they took it. Simple!