Former Shadow Minister of Health Dr William Duguid believes that public health care should remain free to the average Barbadian, even if it means that people have to literally place their bets on it.
Taking part in the fifth and final town hall meeting in a series organized by the Ministry of Health on the vexing issue of health care financing, Dr Duguid, who is dead set against the introduction of user fees at the state-run Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), said he was willing to throw his weight behind the development of a national health lottery to underwrite the costs of universal health care.
“In other jurisdictions there are lotteries set up whose primary purpose is to raise funds for the hospital. This is not an uncommon feature in Barbados as we have long seen games of chance funds for sports. Well a similar one can be done to raise funds for a hospital,” said Dr Duguid, who was recently named as a prospective BLP candidate for Christ Church West in the next election.
However, making it clear that he was speaking in his personal capacity and not for any institution with which he was affiliated, Dr Duguid, who is a dentist and hospital administrator by profession, issued a strong word of warning to Government that it should not harbour any thoughts of charging Barbadians who go to QEH for treatment.
“The Queen Elizabeth Hospital was built on public land. Public funds were used to build the building . . . to equip the hospital. The vast majority of people who work there would have been educated in the public system. The institution has been built, equipped, staffed, financed through the public purse,” noted Dr Duguid.
Based on these facts, the former representative for Christ Church West, who is making a comeback after quitting politics in 2008 to migrate to Canada, contended that “it is the birthright of every Barbadian to be able to access the services that it provides free of charge”.
He advised the current Freundel Stuart administration, “If you want to charge fees in Barbados, go and buy some land privately funded, go and build a privately funded building, equip it with private funds. Then you would have a legitimate reason to charge fees to recoup your expenditure.”
Consistent with his objection to charges at QEH, Dr Duguid said there should be no form of user fees for any public medical service across Barbados.
He cited a Caribbean Development Bank Barbados Assessment of Living Conditions Survey of 2010, which revealed an annual poverty line of $7,860 on this island.
“Or to put it simply, $150 weekly income or less.
Twenty per cent of the Barbadian population lives below the poverty line.”
He reasoned that in terms of QEH patients this 20 per cent was not equated to one in five Barbadians, but more likely one in three citizens because, “the middle class and above generally will seek treatment privately first and then leave only tertiary care to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“So one in three of your patients live in poverty but you would further impoverish them by imposing some sort of user fee.
“People cannot afford to pay for accessing the hospital for minor to intermediate medical health.”
The dentist argued that to those who can afford, $150 may not seem a lot but “$150 for those living in poverty is food for three days or money to buy gas to cook with,” he said, asking: “Must we go back to a situation in Barbados where the rich will live and the poor will die?”