By Shamar Blunt
The large number of Barbadians being treated for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) is contributing significantly to delays experienced by patients seeking emergency care, senior health officials admitted on Friday.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness with Responsibility for the QEH Dr Sonia Browne, the hospital’s Chief Operations Officer (COO) Dr Christine Greenidge and Acting Director of Medical Services Dr Chaynie Williams explained the challenges on VOB’s Down to Brasstacks programme, in response to mounting public criticism of the state of the island’s main healthcare facility and the long wait times to see doctors.
For several weeks, Barbadians have vented their frustrations on social media and radio call-in programmes about the lack of timely interventions at the hospital, particularly the Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department.
Dr Williams acknowledged the delays and said the reason for that was multifaceted. However, she said the root cause was the fact that many Barbadians were being treated for NCDs, despite recovering from the original illness or injury that caused them to visit the hospital.
“The Emergency Department’s challenges are a health system challenge as it represents one geographic location. We have many complications of non-communicable diseases – kidney, heart, and others – that patients need inpatient care [for] and many times persons spend days in the Accident and Emergency Department trying to access inpatient care because they are very ill or in hospital and can’t get out of hospital because they are not well enough,” Dr Williams said.
“We need to be able to safely discharge patients so that we can safely admit patients and the overcrowding continues because some of our beds are being occupied by patients waiting for placement.”
The Acting Director of Medical Services added that because of the hospital’s unwillingness to prematurely discharge patients, available beds have been limited.
“It leaves [fewer] beds for the Accident and Emergency Department to see new patients and it helps [perpetuate] the bad reputation that we continue to grapple [with], because you would hear that ‘I spent a week, three days, seven days, in the Accident and Emergency Department’, when really you were being seen by the other specialists in inpatient services but we are trying to find a formal, inpatient, on-the-ward bed for you.
“We can’t necessarily prematurely discharge patients, because that is not safe for them. [These] are some of the challenges that contribute to the overcrowding,” Dr Williams said.
Dr Greenidge gave a similar assessment, adding that the abandonment of elderly patients was also still a major concern for hospital officials.
“These are elderly patients who many times come on their own and whose family literally abandons them at the QEH. They are no longer in any threat of illnesses, they are medically stable, meaning that they can be discharged, they actually are discharged, but they have nowhere to go,” she said.
Dr Browne said the Government was well aware of the situation at the QEH and assured that plans were in the works to help bolster A&E staff levels.
“We have been lobbying for – and hopefully we will get it in this [upcoming] Estimates – extra staff to man the A&E. The outpatient side of it – when I say outpatient I mean the primary care setting – has to be outfitted a little more appropriately. As Chaynie was saying, for instance, the Winston Scott Polyclinic would not have X-ray facilities so then the patient comes back to A&E where they could be normally treated in a primary care setting.
“Our problem is that we have an influx of patients who do not necessarily need to be in Accident and Emergency,” Minister Browne added. [email protected]