There are two hospitals on Martindale’s Road on the edge of The City.
They are both in the name of Queen Elizabeth.
Depending on who you are, and particularly on how much money you have, you will meet one hospital whose resources are always available, whose equipment is at the ready to diagnose and treat disease and injury, whose doctors are skilful, and whose nurses are caring and compassionate. Always.
The second hospital is more of a luck-of-the-draw facility. For there you will meet the very finest and the very worst of the Barbadian public service in one building, depending on who you meet, or the time of day or night or season.
You may meet kind, caring, and capable doctors and nurses – or you may meet the rudest, meanest, crudest healthcare givers, where empathy, like paracetamol and bedsheets, is in short supply while you wait for hours stretching into days to receive acute care.
This must not continue to be so. The taxpayers of our Barbados deserve better. It’s just not the kind of problem that can be solved by the usual political solution of employing personalities instead of principles or applying personnel rather than understanding patterns.
It is an open secret that this same hospital, whose equipment, resources and beds are often condemned as being inadequate is open for business to those specialists and medical clinics that act as consultants to the hospital.
It cannot be that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is so poor a public medical facility yet can enrich medical practitioners who use it privately. How is it that there are long waiting lanes for services at the QEH that are readily available – at the right price – for people to walk in and use?
If this is part of the cost recovery principle being applied to healthcare, we suggest that the medical fraternity put their money where their mouths are and create their own private facility, rather than piggybacking on what the taxpayers have created for the national benefit.
There is something obscene about this dichotomy of two hospitals, owned by the people of this nation and used as a private corporation for the benefit of paying customers. Government after government has reinforced this system.
And so the treatment of illness in this country is confined, not to medical necessity but alas to one’s ability to pay.
At the QEH, you can jump the queue to see the very same specialist sooner than if you remain on the publicly funded waiting list – if you have the money to afford private care.
The so-called social determinants of health – status, wealth and position – are not new to the dispensing of health care and a patient’s quality of life.
But the legally sanctioned complicity of a public institution selling its wares on the side is not what was envisaged in 1964 when this hospital was opened.
We want to make it clear – the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has some of the most dedicated practitioners of medicine anywhere, who, with compassion and competence, relieve suffering, restore good health, or sometimes as may be the case, offer palliation in the final days and hours of life.
But who feels it knows it. We challenge any member of the Cabinet of Barbados to place themselves completely at the mercy of the QEH’s outpatients’ clinics and public wards.
We do, however, see a solution, where medical decisions instead of financial ones are critical factors in the dispensing of health services.
We renew the call for the introduction of national health insurance, a system of universal health care in which the taxpayers, the working people of this nation, may be able to fund, not merely a hospital, but a health care system that is driven by medical need.
We submit that we are already paying a payroll tax sufficient to create a base fund for a national health insurance scheme. Rather than substituting tax dollars from Central Government for the proceeds from the payroll tax, we suggest a reinvestment of Central Government funds, coupled with this additional tax base, should be sufficient to strengthen our health system, decentralise our health care services and restore the Queen Elizabeth to its rightful place as one of the finest teaching hospitals in this hemisphere.
The Government of Barbados committed itself before the United Nations to the provision of universal health care. It’s time to put our tax dollars where its mouth has been.