It is not just “a Christmas crisis and a New Year crisis”. It is an unconscionable catastrophe for all time.
Earlier in the year, we were advised that there was some scarcity or shortage of essential drugs at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, causing no small anxiety among patients and effecting delayed treatment and in some cases postponement of surgery. The main cause of this scary inconvenience was the hospital’s –– or the Government’s –– high indebtedness to its medical suppliers.
The QEH had owed millions of dollars for pharmaceuticals already used, and most of its medical suppliers were reluctant to continue servicing the Government-owned institution. And we were assured this atrocious state of affairs would not obtain for long, as the appropriate authorities and health administrators would as a matter of urgency seek to reduce the QEH’s indebtedness, appease its creditors, and settle the restlessness of its apprehensive patients.
Public health care would not be compromised, we were boldly told. Barbadians ought not to have any fear of being admitted to hospital should they fall seriously ill.
Yet, within the last week we can be shocked out of our comfort and acceptance by Independent Senator Professor Henry Fraser’s announcement that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was still struck by a shortage of basic drugs and other supplies. In Senator Professor Fraser’s words, there was need for an urgent meeting of “health professionals” with Minister of Health John Boyce and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
Since Professor Fraser’s Monday shocker, the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP), in a Press release, confirmed the shortages of “basic drugs and supplies”, adding that the lack had “impacted the quality of care delivered at our principal tertiary health care institution and polyclinics”.
Were the public treated to weasel words when the Government and Minister of Health had earlier addressed this issue of dearth and guaranteed quality hospital care?
BAMPsays it feels “compelled to warn, yet again, that any serious and chronic shortage of staff and supplies will increase public risk and undermine confidence in the QEH to deliver reasonable service”, and naturally supports Professor Fraser’s call for that urgent meeting between them and the political powers that be.
The Government, BAMPcontends, needs to review “its approach” in respect of the public’s safety. And, there appeared to be no acerbity or hostility on the part of the doctors towards the Queen Elizabeth Hospital; it may have had to do with the prevailing Christmas spirit this week. Nonetheless, if this spirit of cooperation and coaction can theme this requested emergency meeting –– if the Government would acquiesce –– much could come of it.
It is anybody’s guess how this grand indebtedness to its medical suppliers will be finally honoured and subsequent credit properly and professionally managed by the QEH, but the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners has committed itself to helping the Government “surmount the challenges” facing our hospital.
When we hear of hospitals running out of drugs for everything from asthma attacks to cancer to surgery, we conjure up imageries of such dislocation and misery in far-flung places like Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, or Bentui in South Sudan, or Beled-weyne in Somalia, where affected care-givers every now and then must appeal to international medical organizations to donate urgent medical supplies.
It is not the culture of Barbados’ medical care, and such lack of medicines ought never to be allowed to become routine.
We are not suggesting that it happens here. But in many other places where there are shortages of medical supplies, a consequence of this –– and later a sustainability of the scarcity –– is the under-the-counter trading in medicines by hospital staff. It is not unknown for there to be an emergence of a syndicate of nurses acquiring hospital drugs and supplies which they then sell to desperate and panicking patients at high cost.
In our neck of the woods, our public health care is basically free, and without a doubt comes at a high price –– even though it is shored up by us taxpayers. For this reason alone, prudence, frugality, accountability, precision –– no unknown characteristic among the medical fraternity –– must together be the hallmark of the management of our Queen Elizabeth Hospital and its dispensing of tertiary medical care.
The causes of the current shortages at our QEH are probably most complex, but maybe not so tangled beyond easement and solution, if the political powers, hospital administrators and doctors will put their heads together –– most urgently.
That ought to be a New Year resolution!