Well, the cat is out of the bag and Bajans have started the debate. Cabinet has determined, revealed Minister of Health Donville Inniss last Friday, that the country’s new general hospital will be located in Kingsland, Christ Church.
When it gets going, this will undoubtably be the biggest public sector project ever undertaken in this country in many respects. The technical nature of building and commissioning a general hospital certainly will be without comparison, the cost of such a venture will be unprecedented and the number of issues about which the population will have reason to complain will be of a previously unimaginable scale.
We suspect that for Inniss, or who ever the Minister of Health is that has to manage this project since we cannot imagine it being executive in any short space of time, one of the biggest challenges will be public relations — and we suspect that is a headache that will kick in long before the first concrete wall is erected.
There is clearly a need for a new general hospital in Barbados — but not because the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is old and falling apart, because at less than 50 years old it is to all intents and purposes a young structure. Those responsible for the hospital over the past three decades in particular have failed to upgrade and modernise it at a rate to keep it where it should be, hence the need to replace it now.
Having cleared that, authorities need to begin an instant programme of public relations and education to ensure it has the support of the population on the choice of location. We understand why those responsible would want virgin land, but emotional or otherwise, the instant concern about Kingsland not being central has a lot of merit. We suggest that Inniss and his team deal with this instantly.
We are not experts and we understand the concerns about storm surges, rising tides etc, but given the tremendous about of parking that will be required for any general hospital, is there any merit in a facility in which the first four or five floors are dedicated to parking, essentially meaning that there is no danger of exposing patients and critical care facilities and equipment?
Wouldn’t such an approach allow for consideration of the considerable volume of land around the existing QEH, including all of what is now the old Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education complex on Jemmotts Lane and the playing field that borders the hospital and John Beckles Drive? Again, wouldn’t such an approach allow for an meaningful and cost-effective integration of the existing hospital into any new plant?
The Government also needs to get its public education machinery in place to explain how an emergency facility can be shifted to Kingsland and not disadvantage ordinary folks from St. Lucy, St. Peter, St. Andrew etc. It does not take any mathematical formula to conclude that, on the face of it, critical minutes are being added to a journey, particularly when it takes in the Wildey area — minutes that could mean the difference between life and death.
Even more important than all the above, however, is that the vast majority of the services offered by a general hospital like the QEH are done through outpatient clinics, which in the Barbadian context means public transport is the primary means of conveyance. In the Kingsland scenario, at least on the face of it, these people are going to face a major challenge.
We are not trying to diminish what those responsible have put into the Kingsland plan so far, because we are reasonably sure the decision was not reach without painstaking consideration of many factors. In fact, it is very possible that careful consideration was given to the issues we raised in this article and sensible solutions are already in the works. What we wish is that our planners will be prudent and seek buy-in from Barbadians across the board from the beginning, rather than doing what we seem to do so well — spend so much of our productive time fighting unnecessary fires.