At a time when the Barbados Government is said to be going after more medical business from the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a regional academic is warning that the move could backfire and even land local health authorities before the law courts, unless the state-run Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) stops charging higher fees to CARICOM nationals.
While pointing out that Article 7 the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas speaks to non-discrimination on the basis of nationality, Kai-Ann D. Skeete, a research fellow at the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law Policy and Services, noted that there was a schedule in the QEH Act which sets out that CARICOM nationals must pay higher fees than Barbadians.
“That is discrimination on the basis of your nationality,” Skeete warned, adding that, “a CARICOM national can challenge that because it is discriminating on the basis of their nationality”.
She further cautioned that the current provisions in the hospital’s legislation may also be allowing other partner states better access to the QEH’s services “because there are other agreements that Barbados is signed on to with other third countries which allow them to have more access to health services than CARICOM nationals”.
In this regard, she made reference to the Shanique Myrie case in which the Jamaican national successfully sued the Government of Barbados before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for violating her right as a CARICOM national to enter the country.
Myrie was paid US$38,620 in pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages for being subjected to an illegal cavity search and for being detained by Barbadian authorities in a cold, filthy room before she was deported.
Further cautioning that Government could be sued on the basis of its current health policy, Skeete said: “When [a CARICOM national] comes into the hospital you should not be asking what is your nationality, because we are obligated to provide the service.
“As a human right you must be allowed to access health care,” she added.
Skeete was at the time delivering a lunchtime lecture at the First Caribbean Suite B Solutions Centre at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
The seminar was titled, The CSME at 10 years: A Call to reflect & remodel and reinvigorate.
During the presentation, the trade research fellow stressed that there were too many outdated laws that prohibited CARICOM nationals from accessing their rights in the countries in which they live.
She said as a result of international law, all CARICOM nationals were equals, regardless of the nation state in which they lived.
Skeete said as the 10th anniversary of the agreement was being observed, there was need for governments to reflect on what had been done during this period and what could be done to remodel the Single Market.
“We also need to start contemplating the single economy because remember the single market is only one aspect of the CSME, so in doing this, there needs to be a greater role of the CSME focal point coming to the fore as responsible for implementing and governing the CSME. There also needs to be an active role for regional institutions to implement the CSME across the region,” she said.
Her comments came as health officials this week launched a series of town hall meetings to get the views of the public on the way forward for financing of this island’s health care.
Following a trade mission to St Lucia, Grenada and Guyana last month, QEH boss Dr Dexter James reported yesterday that the QEH earned close to $400,000 last year from patient referrals from the 15-nation CARICOM alone.
However, he said while the majority of those referrals were for cardiovascular, neurosurgical and neonatal care, he said coming out of that trade mission, some of the countries had requested immediate outpatient services, in particular ophthalmic services, and he was eager for the QEH to meet the demand.