Sick Bay

HEALTH Care has been a top national agenda item for some time now. It’s as if the entire nation is at Sick Bay on the issue, the main antagonists and protagonists seeming to be more interested in scoring points and exchanging unhealthy words than caring about healing the sores in the national health system.

It’s as if some of the parties involved are playing ‘ping pong’ with the nation’s health.

Plans for two new national hospitals side-by-side in Castries were incubated long ago and in 2006 ground was broken on what is now the OKEU hospital. A psychiatric institution (to be shared with the OECS) was also constructed with Chinese help.

In the past 12 years we’ve seen three changes of administration here. But a full dozen years after the ground was broken, the OKEU stands today like a new home waiting to be occupied by an unwilling occupant.

Political parties and governments have had their say, as have nurses and doctors, architects and engineers, ministries and international funding agencies. But alas, the analyses continue without any prescriptions.

The doctors have prescribed certain specific interventions they consider would be both healthy and rewarding in the circumstances, including a return to the original VAT rate of 15% to raise funds to pay for a proper national health care system and service, including national health insurance. But clearly, the government has its own prescription and is looking at other related pharmaceutical options.

The discussions must continue. Unfortunately, however, what we’re having are not discussions but quarrels. Where clinical analyses are required, we instead hear and see verbal and spirited interventions in oral and body language not conducive to a healthy debate.

Are we listening? Have we tried to find out what our neighbours have done or are doing in similar circumstances?

For example, the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is in a similar situation and Parliament there has been debating the issue of health insurance, with the government and opposition as divided there as here.

But the Vincentian government has taken a firm public position: It feels a sustainable national health insurance scheme would not be healthy in any of these small island states, because it would be too costly to maintain and will only result in heavier costs on the public purse.

What the Gonsalves administration is advocating is a regional – in this case OECS – approach to health insurance, which, it argues, will be more healthy and sustainable. (See related article on this page).

So, what’s the position here? Is our economy healthy enough to afford going it alone in pursuit of a National Health Insurance scheme?

It’s not good enough for information on the state of plans for the nation’s health to be filtered out sparingly like drips of saline (or ‘life water’) being fed intravenously into a patient needing intensive care.

The Saint Jude hospital, as is, is indeed in urgent need of emergency intensive care. The very lives of patients are at stake while the policymakers and practitioners continue to argue and disagree, apparently oblivious to the fact that sick people can die if agreements and healthy solutions cannot be found sooner than later.
We are not here overstating the gravity of the issue. Anyone who feels so should just try very hard to imagine being a patient at St. Jude today.

Meanwhile, instead of the continuing war of words and crossing of swords, isn’t it about time the nation gets some healthy healthcare news that will allow it to breathe a collective sigh of relief on, instead of simply waiting to exhale?

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