We applaud the Barbados Nurses Association and the National Union of Public Workers, whose long-standing ties with their nurse-members would have driven their support for the Government’s plan to recruit nurses from one of this country’s ancestral nations, Ghana.
They must know, surely better than the Unity Trade Union, led by Opposition’s Senator Caswell Franklyn, how welcome these sisters from across the waters would be in the land of descendants.
They must also be aware of how badly these nurses are needed. We simply cannot produce skilled nurses at the rate that is required to maintain our national health system.
They must know of the long decline in the numbers of Barbadian students registering to complete courses in nursing. They must know of the continued exodus of nurses from these shores to wherever those skills can command higher pay – though we understand this number to be considerably smaller than may have been suggested.
We will leave it to the opposition senator to find other avenues for keeping the Government on its toes, preferably in the Upper House – to which he was not elected but appointed.
We support the BNA and the NUPW for giving lie to the unsupported assertion that Barbadian graduate nurses are roaming the streets of this nation in search of work. Now is not the time for political gamesmanship when the health of our people is on the line.
It is bad enough that under the guise of cost containment and revenue recovery, amid decreasing transfers of taxpayer dollars to our primary health care service – while said taxes have been raised even further to pay for healthcare – we should embark on a campaign to force the Government to abandon the very generous proposal made with the president of Ghana to put its trained nurses at our disposal.
Too many Barbados, as it is, are possessed of the uninformed view that nothing good can come from Africa.
The recruitment of West African nurses must not be seen as a knee-jerk act of mere sentiment by sentimental politicians filled with nothing more than visions of unity, amity and harmony.
Centuries ago, when indentured servants from Wales, Scotland and Ireland proved wholly ineffectual in the production of cash crops for a plantation economy, the settlers turned to those thought best suited to labour in a tropical environment.
Now, nearing 200 years since the formal end of the pernicious application of that principle, we scan and find skilled, capable people who are better suited to our free nation’s cultural environment – the mutual descendants of our ancestors.
This country faces a stark choice: whether to pursue a health care system which treats disease and prevents illness, or create triage on the basis of ability to pay.
Whether a citizen or resident of this nation comes to the 24-hour polyclinic with a broken leg or misfiring cells in the earlier stages of cancer, they must not be turned back for want of resources and abundance of political points-scoring.
An essential prerequisite of universal health care – the principle to which the Government of Barbados has declared its unwavering commitment – is the strengthening of existing health systems.
Health care does not mean the Queen Elizabeth Hospital alone. It cannot be concerned only with the dispensing of medicines and the application of procedures in the battle against disease. The price of a healthy nation is eternal diagnosis and early prevention, best achieved by systemic monitoring, diagnosis, maintenance, and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
The child sufferer of a high fever must not be made to compete with a gunshot victim at the triage desk of our national public hospital.
Both are serious ailments, to be sure. But a system in which a gunshot victim is rushed in while the feverish patient must languish several hours untreated is a recipe for inequity and iniquity.
We look forward to the day when, just as appears to be happening with education reform, a national conversation be entered into earnestly on health care reform.
When that conversation does begin, we hope that it will consider improving the lot of our native-born nurses together with the warm embrace of healing hands from across the former Middle Passage.
We seek a conversation that is entered into earnestly, fairly, unjustly, and including all – even the goodly Senator Franklyn with a keenly trained eye for detail.
Until then, we urge all citizens and residents to prepare to welcome Ghana’s professional healers with open arms and willing hearts.
How ironic it would be, in the anniversary month of the Windrush immigration experience, in which hundreds of Barbadian nurses were recruited by the United Kingdom junior minister of health – one Enoch Powell – to work in the hospitals and clinics of the National Health Service, that we now, too, must be as hard-hearted and hard-headed when Sisters of the former Empire cross west rather than North.