A top official of the state-run Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), which is one of the primary beneficiaries of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), Friday expressed “amazement” over the private sector’s response to the onerous levy.
In fact, Chief Executive Officer Dexter James suggested that members of the business community had issued a “kneejerk reaction that all prices will increase . . . without first internalizing how can we find new and creative ways of controlling and containing our costs”.
However, in light of the tax, he promised that the QEH would be seeking to foster closer ties with the private sector with a view to reducing overall costs.
Dr James also said the QEH was developing a number of mitigating strategies to overcome risks, including fiscal challenges and untimely payments, as well as inappropriate use of its medical facilities.
His comments fall in line with those made by Minister of Health John Boyce last week as he delivered Astor B Watts lunchtime lecture at the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Labour Party.
Boyce not only revealed at the time that a National Health Insurance Fund was currently in the making, but pointed out that last year Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had introduced a two per cent NSRL as a means of financing health care and waste management.
This tax has since been increased to ten per cent in this year’s Budget amid a national outcry that it was simply too onerous.
However, Boyce said if heath care services were to be continually provided by the State, there had to be a means of financing them.
“If you visit a modern hospital in the very developed world, the whole question of bed care has changed. When you go to a bed you are an acute patient, no matter what’s wrong with you, all your monitoring system, all your intervention systems are part of that bed,” he pointed out while arguing that health care costs had become extremely high.
With the situation as it stands, the health minister suggested that Barbadians should listen to health care debates in the United States and the United Kingdom with a view to understanding who pays medical bills.
Friday, James took the health care discussion down a slightly different path as he promised that sweeping changes, including an adjustment to visiting hours, were on the cards for the island’s premier health care facility.
Addressing the hospital’s annual review and discussion meeting at the Barbados Hilton Resort on the topic Creating Value Through Enhanced Service Quality, the hospital director also said authorities were currently working on a number of initiatives to enhance service at the 53-year-old health care facility and to improve its overall efficiency.
Likening the task of the management of the QEH to that of a cricket team, James said they were “playing on an extremely sticky wicket these days with a very slippery outfield”, but with “2,100 cheerleaders in staff members who support us”.
However, he said despite the “trials and tribulations” over the past five decades, the institution was able to hold its own, while giving an assurance that things were about to get better for workers as well as residents who use the facility.
In that regard, James said the QEH had set five broad objectives for the 2017-2018 financial year. These are improvement in service quality and patient safety; strengthening of financial management systems; improvement in environment and care and operations; strengthening of human resource management services and engendering of public trust and confidence in the QEH and by extension of the public health system.
Among the planned improvements, he said, was for the hospital’s laboratory to move to a 24-hour operation. The hospital is also seeking to implement better infection control protocols, reduce the number of people waiting for surgery, and complete a number of certification and accreditation programmes.
However, Dr James suggested that the biggest transformational component in the public health care system would be the roll out of a new information and communication technology system to improve and expand access to diagnostic services.
“It will permit many things, the seamless movement of patients between the hospital and the polyclinics. It will allow for the standardization of patients’ records and not only that, patients’ records will be in an electronic format and available real time anywhere,” he said.
“We are soon to launch extended visitation hours across the hospital. We will start with Ward C12 in a couple weeks to allow for visitors to visit their loved ones on extended periods.
“Our outpatient services will be improved. Already you have seen an improvement in the aesthetics and hygiene of the environment. We are now working on the service component of that so that we can have our appointments run a little bit smoother,” he added.
The hospital CEO did not go into details on the QEH’s financial situation, but promised that collection rates would be improved beyond 85 per cent. He also announced that there would be strengthening of supply chains with a view to reducing costs, controlling expenditure and diversifying the hospital’s revenue base. He also promised that the QEH’s outstanding audits for the years 2012 to 2016 would be completed this year.
He also suggested that hospital officials would need to develop an express service for senior citizens and other vulnerable groups.