Tempers flared in the House of Assembly today as Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley today clashed with Government over the existence of a plan to protect the elderly, the group considered most vulnerable in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 here.
Minister of Health Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic countered the plan was not yet finalized. But his comments were contrary to what Senior Medical Officer of Health Dr Anton Best had earlier reported.
The three were speaking in the Parliament during Monday’s committee session on the Appropriation Bill.
The exchange between Atherley, Bostic and Best was sparked when Chair of Committee Dr Sonia Browne asked whether a plan was in place should the virus to hit the Geriatric Hospital.
Dr Best replied to the chairman saying: “We actually do have a very clear plan as to what to do to protect the elderly.
“We recognize that the elderly population is the most vulnerable population in other jurisdictions and, in fact, it was just yesterday that we developed a plan of action as to what to do.
“I am not at liberty to go into details but I would like to respond by saying we do have a plan of action that is being implemented as of today in terms of protecting that population.”
But Bishop Atherley swiftly responded: “This was not one of my questions, but why would you not be at liberty to give us details on a plan for the care of the elderly in case we have a problem?”
But the Minister of Health intervened to reply to the Opposition Leader’s question to Dr Best.
He said: “Let me say that the plan is not a secret plan but the care of the elderly goes beyond the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
“It goes beyond health care. We have completed our aspect of it in terms of health care but we are now scheduled to have a meeting with the ministry with responsibility of elderly care so that we can then fashion out what we will then call the National Plan for the Elderly in relation to COVID-19.”
But Bishop Atherley was still not satisfied, declaring: “We don’t have a plan.
“We have an aspect of a plan which yesterday was formalised and developed by the Ministry of Health but the plan would be incomplete without reference to other ministries.”
Lt. Col. Bostic again tried to explain the ministry’s position.
He said: “[The] honourable member would recognise and understand that since the first week of January that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has been doing its work.
“It is a work in motion because COVID is something that is not static things change and so on. We have a process which we follow.
The Health Minister continued: “It is our direct responsibility then we engage those stakeholders which we need to engage and then the draft plan and that is any plan then has to go to Cabinet for Cabinet to give its blessings to the plan.
“Some of the plans will involve finance and that is the process that we have been using so it is work in progress. But we have done most of the work from a health perspective.”
But Bishop Atherley kept on pressing in search of “clarity”.
He said: “It is very serious. So a professional medical person comes here before the Parliament and says in response to a query from the chairman expressing concern as to what we do in the event that this thing spreads among our geriatric institutions and a medical professional responds by saying ‘there is a plan but I am not at liberty to say’ and I can’t ask why not.’”
It was then that Minister of Economic Affairs Marsha Caddle rose on a point of order.
She told the House: “I believe that the question has been stated. The question has been asked. The question has been answered.
“I’m not sure and you would have to guide us, Madame Chair whether it is within the rules of this House to continue to restate questions that the Minister and his team have already answered.”
But Bishop Atherley angrily replied: “I will not even respond to that. That is totally out of place and out of order absolutely. No I am not finished. I am still waiting for an answer to my query. The Ministry of Health has a plan. What is the plan?”
Minister of Health Bostic sought to explain one final time.
He declared: “Let me make it very clear to the honourable member and to all members of the chamber. There is a process which this ministry and this Minister have been following.
“We all know for example with the National Disaster Plan that that plan is developed a period of time. That plan is improved if there are any gaps there is continuous development of the plan.
“In relation to any COVID plan and I said it from my first two or three briefing sessions. I said that it was a work in progress but we had to hit the ground running because COVID was already in progress and we were developing as we go along.”
Bostic continued: “In this case with the elderly we have been doing a lot of work on it.
“We know what we will do in relations to the safety of health care facilities for the elderly but the plan for the elderly is part of a National Pandemic Plan and that plan at the moment has not yet been approved.
“We know exactly what to do if something happens and we will act in accordance with those plans.
“In terms of making the plan public that will come in due course and it will be very soon.”
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