Two senior ministers in the Freundel Stuart administration have responded to recent concerns raised about the fee structure at state-run Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), in particular how it affects Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals seeking treatment at the island’s premier health care institution.
In separate interviews with Barbados TODAY, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler responded to claims that the island was presently discriminating against CARICOM nationals by charging them higher fees than their Barbadian counterparts.
Trade policy researcher Kai Anne Skeete levelled the accusation here last week, while warning that the island could find itself in legal hot water with the Caribbean Court of Justice, in light of the Shanique Myrie case in which the Jamaican national successful sued the Barbados Government for infringement of her CARICOM rights.
However, while cautioning that the matter of QEH charges was “a slightly diffierent situation”, Sinckler said that to the exent that the concern had been raised, “it is an issue that needs to be legitimately addressed”.
Sinckler, who is a trained trade specialist, also noted that it was standard practice within integration systems for your partners “to be treated no less favourably than your own nationals”.
However, he pointed out that CARICOM had not fully articulated or implemented the whole issue of contingent rights, which he acknowledged was “a very expansive area of the trade policy in terms of the socioeconomic integration under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy”.
The Minister of Finance also drew reference to the current debate taking place in the United Kingdom about the level of integration and the costs to the British government of accommodating European citizens, who by virtue of their citizenship of the European Union, were said to be entitled.
“The UK is saying,‘I heard that point but there has to be some limit and there has to be a certain set of agreeable standards because we simply cannot afford to provide all of those services to other member states within the union’,” Sinckler pointed out, warning that “the same thing is going to happen in CARICOM [since] the discussion on contingent rights is still taking place as far as I know”.
In a brief comment on the matter, Brathwaite said the island must adhere to the CARICOM Treaty of Chaguaramas, which prohibits discrimination against citizens of the 15-nation grouping based on their nationality.
“If this is the case, then they [QEH administration] have to look at it again. I am sure they have their legal people advising them, but we have to adhere to the Treaty, because we signed onto it,” he told Barbados TODAY, a day after the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer Dr Dexter James told Barbados TODAY that he was awaiting advice on the matter.