PRINCESS Margaret Hospital Administrator Mary Walker, commenting on the fact that the Princess Margaret Hospital has had to turn away non-emergency cases at the hospital this weekend because of a critical bed shortage due the roof not being repaired for two years, and the shortage of nurses, says that this is the “worst” she has seen the hospital in the many years that she has been on the hospital’s staff.
We are surprised at this statement. Surprised because in the 41 years that she has been with the institution she should have seen the continuing neglect, the political manoeuvring and the build up of what Health Minister Dr Duane Sands has called the “perfect storm” caused by years of “dumb and inappropriate decisions made by the previous government”. Maybe it would have helped if she had spoken up sooner.
It is a “storm” that Dr Sands inherited in May of last year when his government defeated the Christie government, and one that Bahamians expected him to defuse despite inheriting unpaid bills and approved contracts with no finances to undertake them. Dr Sands said he is “honestly not sure” when a solution to the “mess” will be found. Seeing the unpaid bills, the approved contracts with no start up funds, the waste, the inefficiency, the stupid spending on Family Island clinics, some of which have no staff and at least one of which is yet to open — all to win an election. Short of a miracle we see no way out of this morass of fiscal confusion.
The Tribune did its best to keep its readers informed as to what was happening at their hospital. But public reaction was one of indifference. Now they want to know what the FNM government, not yet a year in office, is going to do about it. PLP blustering and boasting was loud about all the free medical services that was to come on stream. In March, 2015, the PLP announced that it would implement the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme in January 2016. No longer would Bahamians have to have cook-outs to raise funds for needed operations.
“The cost of health care in The Bahamas is high and many can’t afford to pay for private care,” wrote a member of the PLP‘s medical team at the time. “The political mantra is that no one can be denied care in government institutions because of an inability to pay. So people are flocking there and the hospitals are bursting at the seams. The care available is limited and the wait times are too long. Those who need care can’t get it as needed, when needed, and those who need more, can’t get more.” All that would be changed – no more wait times at clinics, all resources required would be provided” and so the promises continued. Yet, today the hospital is hard pressed to attend to emergency cases. Money that should have contributed to providing a first class hospital for The Bahamas went to pay high consultancy fees to put together an NHI scheme.
Despite these expenses that they could not meet, PLP politicians led Bahamians to believe that they would be able to supply them with a private doctor of their choice and free medical care. When someone asked a doctor how government was going to pay for all of that, the sarcastic reply was: “That’s for you to figure out!” As far as we were concerned we had figured it out long ago. The tragedy was that the Bahamian people had not.
Eventually, a sleeping Bahamian public must have seen through the promises. At the polls in May last year they finally gave the PLP the order of the boot. The FNM has now inherited an empty Treasury, and a once indifferent public is expecting the impossible — a miracle that is not there.
After the 2017-2018 Budget debate Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest revealed that the Christie administration had paid more than $10m in consultancy fees for NHI in the last fiscal year — money desperately needed to supply the needs of a collapsing PMH. “I would say that National Health Insurance is an example of not only fiscal ineptitude, fiscal mismanagement, but it becomes the poster child of what happened during the last administration.” A gullible Bahamian people bought into the bluster. And now they want to know when the Minnis government is going to deliver. With no finances, what can they deliver — unless, of course, Bahamians are willing to be taxed to raise the funds. Maybe such a suggestion might waken our people up to their responsibilities as citizens.
Administrator Walker complains of the critical shortage of beds at the hospital – so critical that they are now sending patients home to be attended by clinics in their districts.
However what did she expect? Does she recall that the Critical Care Unit was built to provide much needed extra beds? And does she recall that the the clinic was 96 per cent completed — expected to open in October, 2012 – only five months away? Construction was running smoothly, everything was on schedule. The May, 2012 election defeated the Ingraham government. The Christie government took over the administration. The completion of the Critical Care Unit was left with sufficient funds to not only complete the building, but to purchase the needed equipment. All that was needed was the recruiting and training of staff.
However, under the PLP government construction was stopped so that the much needed “step down” clinic — a unit for patients’ bed – could be converted into the PMH’s administrative offices. This would not have supplied all the beds needed today, but it certainly would have made the situation less critical — these plush offices removed at least 20 recovery beds. The 52-week nurses training course, accredited by the Royal College of Nurses in the United Kingdom, for the training of patient care assistants, anaesthetic assistant and emergency medical technicians was discontinued and the Bahamian nurses, now trained, were released or terminated. Surely, PMH Administrator Mary Walker remembers this major political blunder. One doctor told The Tribune at the time that he doubted that the Critical Care Unit would open as scheduled because of the PLP’s “lack of planning, the diversion of funds to other things, procurement problems, redesign of valuable space and making changes so that their people could get financial benefits”.
To have staffing and equipment in place did not seem to be a priority. Training of Bahamian nurses for critical care duties had stopped. The Critical Care Unit opened more than two years late, but even then it was not fully functional. The situation got progressively worse. And so here we are today with a general hospital that should be condemned. However, the new government will have to move slowly from one problem to another and with public support try to rebuild on what they have.