By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A well-known physician yesterday suggested Saturday’s National Health Insurance (NHI) meeting involved a change of style rather than substance, as he urged the Government not to treat doctors as “devils”.
Dr Duane Sands, who is also the FNM’s general election candidate for Elizabeth, praised the Christie administration for “striking a more conciliatory tone” in its NHI discussions with the medical profession.
Agreeing that this was needed, Dr Sands said the meeting did not reveal any substantive changes made by the Government to the NHI scheme, or indications that it was listening to the medical profession’s concerns.
Conceding that he had to leave the meeting with two hours remaining, Dr Sands said none of the reports he had received from colleagues suggested the Government planned to significantly alter or delay its NHI plans.
“I think the Government sought to strike a more conciliatory tone, but in terms of any new ground during the time I was there, not really.
“Whether there was new ground broken, a re-hashing of old information or any progress, I don’t know. But certainly the minister of health, and minister of national security, struck a more respectful line that, I think, was appreciated.”
The Government, through Dr Perry Gomez and Dr Bernard Nottage, appears to have realised that it cannot afford to alienate the medical professions - especially doctors - if it is to pull off its quickfire implementation of NHI successfully.
Their comments appear to have been ‘damage control’, and an attempt to mollify doctors after their colleague, Shane Gibson, the minister of labour and national insurance, last week accused doctors of being ‘greedy’ and only looking out for their own financial interests in raising concerns over NHI.
This effectively united the medical community in opposition to the scheme, with both the Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CPSA) and Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU) issuing public statements that they could neither support, nor encourage their members to register, for NHI.
Dr Wesley Francis, the Medical Association of the Bahamas (MAB) president, also raised concerns over the lack of specific details, and absence of true stakeholder consultation, over the NHI plan at a joint press conference featuring all medical industry bodies.
Dr Sands yesterday urged the Government to see that the doctors were not simply raising concerns to make mischief, telling Tribune Business: “They could certainly realise the physicians don’t have horns, we’re not red skinned, and that we don’t have fire in our eyes.”
He questioned, though, where Messrs Gomez and Nottage’s were acting as the ‘good cop’ to Mr Gibson’s ‘bad cop’ in the Government’s approach to NHI.
“I think we’re going to be looking at ‘good cop, bad cop’,” Dr Sands told Tribune Business. “You play the role of good guy, and I’ll beat these guys with a bludgeon on the sidelines, and hopefully we’ll get what we want.
“I think we’ll [doctors] keep trying to negotiate in good faith, and advance an agenda that’s in the interests of the welfare of the Bahamian people. What the Government’s agenda is, that’s up to them.”
He added: “We’re not interested in being dragged into the mud, but it’s what desperate people do.
“I keep coming back to the fact this [NHI] is a political election bid, so the terms of the engagement are defined by warfare in the eyes of the Government, and if they’ve got to beat up some people and destroy people’s reputations, that’s too bad. It’s collateral damage.”
Dr Sands warned that “the rubber hits the road” when doctors see the terms of the NHI registration contracts presented to them by the Government, as only then will they be able to decide whether to participate as healthcare providers in the scheme.