by Donna Sealy
Minister of Health Donville Inniss wants to hear from former Prime Minister Owen Arthur.
Saying that “we are not only in the silly season but the Yuletide season when one must show greater care and compassion”, he not only dismissed the Opposition Leader’s claims that he had cut the Barbados Drug Service’s budget, but noted he was “a little surprised” with his statements.
“]This is the same Owen Arthur who is commending me privately for having the intestinal fortitude to do what he could not get Jerome Walcott, Liz Thompson and many of his health ministers to do, and that is to bring some necessary reforms to the Barbados Drug Service.
“Now we have not cut the Barbados Drug Service, in 2010/11 we spent $53 million in the Barbados Drug Service. Had we not made the necessary reforms to the Barbados Drug Formulary, as well as to alter the arrangements with the private pharmacies today the Ministry of Health would be spending $70 million in the Drug Service,” Inniss told the media after touring the St. John polyclinic this morning with other officials.
Inniss later told Barbados TODAY that in 2011/2012 some $29 million was spent on the BDS.
The minister challenged Arthur to provide him with the name of one person who was no longer getting medication.
Inniss also told reporters that Arthur “has been asking and advocating for cuts in public expenditure” a position he did not hold firm to.
“I’m not a firm believer in putting a cap on the health budget because you never know what illnesses will flare up. We do have to have a budget and all efforts are made to stick to that budget but to say as Mr. Arthur did when he was Minister of Finance, capping the health sector budget was not the way you can do it.
“We have not cut the Barbados Drug Service. As matter of fact, we have more staff employed today than any other point in time in Barbados, Barbadians still continue to get access to essential and affordable medicines so I don’t know what this whole hue and cry is about.
“The Barbados Drug Service should be cited more as an example of what should be happening throughout the public service, where you’re looking for areas where there are huge amounts of wastage and duplication and inefficiencies and curtail them.
“I could not as minister sit in my office and watch a Barbados Drug Service spiral out of control. Every minister going back to the late ’80s has said that the Barbados Drug Service was spiralling out of control and needed to be reined in. We opted to do it the most humane and palatable manner to ensure that Barbadians still have access to essential medicines and that is exactly what is done,” Inniss said.
He also told the media that “Mr. Arthur can call me on all sorts of other matters, most of them very frivolous” and had “all of my numbers”.
“I invite him to call me and let me know the names of any Barbadians who have been affected by changes in the drug service in the manner in which he proclaims… As politicians, we are so eager sometimes to talk about the poor black man or the little old lady because that gets people very emotional and gives the impression that we are so uncaring. So tell Mr. Arthur to call me,” Inniss said.
The health minister also issued another challenge to Arthur and the Barbados Labour Party. He said he wants them to publicly state if they would “roll back the changes” made in the BDS if they were to be elected.
“Let Mr. Arthur come and tell the country that he will once again pay the private pharmacies in this country $1.5 million per month to dispense medication. Let him come and tell the country that he will provide all the medications that all Barbadians think they want out of the Ministry of Health’s budget,” Inniss said. (DS)