Opposition Member of Parliament Dr Maria Agard says Government plans introducing fees for medical services, and has accused the administration of misleading Barbadians on the reason it is not getting some drugs.
The Barbados Labour Party Shadow Minister of Health told a rally against the Municipal Solid Waste Tax last night that while reducing money available to the health system, Government officials had been hinting at a fee for members of the public needing health services.
“The Democratic Labour Party is laying a foundation for the introduction of users fees in this country,” she said in the auditorium of Foundation School in Christ Church.
“I have noticed a murmuring among the Democratic Labour Party. They have been murmuring deliberately and schemingly,” she said, adding that the first flag was raised last year when during the Budget Debate Barbadians were told there would only be $145 million to run the Queen Elizabeth Hospital –– “when, of course, the CEO, you all know, had determined that the hospital really and truly cannot be managed on anything less than $200 million”.
Agard said that despite that inadequate sum being set for the QEH, there was a budget cut of $35 million from it.
“Now, if you cannot run your establishment on $145 million, how can you run that establishment on $35 million less?”
Agard coupled this underfunding with the QEH’s cash flow crisis of last week, when medical services were restricted to emergency procedures only, because of a shortage of supplies. She noted that during a parliamentary discussion on the matter, Minister of Industry and Commerce Donville Inniss had spoken of a need for alternative funding of the institution.
Agard said the Opposition agreed there was a need to review operating costs for the Barbados public health system.
“But what is so wrong about it is that you want to introduce it at a time when the shared sacrifice that you speak of has had to be borne by the poorest of the poor and those who cannot afford to pay any more taxes.
“Do you understand the continuum that we are facing, and why it is so important to stand up against this one [Municipal Solid Waste Tax]?” she asked the crowd. “Because if we don’t stand up against this one, others will come”.
The shadow minister disputed a Government claim that the quality and standard of care at the QEH had not been reduced.
“. . . Barbadians have suffered as a result of a shortage of drugs. I will not accept a Minister of Health coming and saying that the shortage of drugs may be because there is a shortage globally and internationally, that the shortage might have come about because there is none in Barbados.”
The Christ Church West MP produced a document listing 46 out of 76 vital drugs said to be withheld from QEH because of non-payment.
According to the list, among those withheld is the Xeloda 500mg tablet.
“Xeloda is a drug that is given to patients who are suffering from cancer –– colon cancer, and . . . breast cancer. That drug is unavailable to the QEH . . . because we as a Government refuse to pay our bills, and the patient who is already compromised, and broken and ravaged by a condition that in most times is [permanent], they have to pay for that medication on the streets of Barbados. How can you expect someone who perchance can’t work, because they are ravaged by cancer, to find $2,000?”
Agard also pointed to Kytril, which is used after cancer therapy to suppress vomiting, being sold at $177.62 per box.
“The reason I am saying to you that we need to speak out against the Municipal Tax is that I am warning you your silence is emboldening the Government, and if you let that pass, I’m cautioning you this evening, another tax is coming.”
Agard contended that Government planned permanently transferring the burden of these and other medical payments directly on members of the public, and the Municipal Solid Waste Tax was the beginning of the fees.
“I’m saying to you that if we let this one pass, the Government will not stop there. Another tax is coming; others will come.
“I am calling on the churches that have been patently silent, even though churches ought to be the voice of the vulnerable, I’m calling on sports clubs that keep young people together and engaged and disciplined. I am calling on all other interest groups to speak out.”