By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
SENIOR doctors in the public healthcare system are planning to obtain a strike certificate after failing to finalise an industrial agreement with the Public Hospitals Authority despite more than two years of negotiations.
Dr Locksley Munroe, president of the Consultant Physician Staff Association, told The Tribune his bargaining institution filed a trade dispute with the Department of Labour yesterday and has been advised by its lawyer Obie Ferguson to give the PHA five days to resolve outstanding issues.
He described negotiations with PHA as “lousy,” saying: “Literally it has been no different from everything else government does for the Bahamian people which simply marginalises and denigrates them.”
In the meantime, he said, the association will also seek to get a strike certificate. He said with their frustrations at a peak, doctors are prepared to withdraw their services in “some way or fashion.”
“The trade dispute is the first step,” he said. “Whether we get a resolution or not in the next five working days, shortly we will take steps to secure a strike certificate which is like having a licence––you could park your car for a month without driving it; with the certificate, we would have the legal right to go on a strike, even if not immediately.”
Dr Munroe said doctors would not take action that betrays the public’s trust but he insisted their work patterns would change.
The main point of contention between doctors and the PHA concerns benefits.
“We have no health insurance,” Dr Munroe said, “no pension plan, I have not gotten an increment, and when I say I, I mean any physician who has been working there for more than ten years, have not gotten an increment in that period.”
The CPSA represents about 120 doctors. They are not only specialists in various fields but they manage junior doctors. A slow down or withdrawal of their services could have dramatic effects for the healthcare system in the country. Perpetually in a state of tension with its staff, PHA is also dealing with nurses who have threatened to go on a strike.
Yesterday, Lyrone Burrows, PHA deputy managing director, said management of the authority is “saddened” by the steps taken by CPSA.
“We have been in discussions with the association for the past several months,” he said.
He revealed that a decision had been made by management to split negotiations with CPSA around two themes: financial issues and non-financial issues.
He said the non-financial issues have been resolved. “Within the last month we would’ve commenced a review around financial items,” he added. “We are disappointed with the association steps taken today. We are prepared to move forward with our discussions on those financial points bearing in mind that the PHA is under financial constraints.”
Mr Burrows declined to discuss the details of CPSA’s requests. However, he said it would “require some financial gymnastics” to provide the benefits the senior doctors believe they deserve.
“At present the PHA receives the bulk of its funding from the government,” he said. “Our expected outlay of funds is to cover salaries, maintenance and ongoing operations in the region of $255 million. We would’ve been funded to the tune of $216m through the latest budget so we are already starting with a significant deficit in excess of $30m. While we do generate some revenues from our operations, the amount we generate pales in comparison to what we are funded. Any amount added to that is going to be a further strain on the PHA itself. We recognise the fact that CPSA is seeking to have increases and it would require some financial gymnastics on our part to provide benefits to them. It would require that we find ways to generate increases in revenue or find ways to reduce our expenditure through implementation of new technologies and being more efficient in how we carry out our operations. We are interested to collaborating with our partners.”
According to Dr Munroe, the association is also frustrated with worrisome working conditions. He noted a failing air-condition system has brought a stop to elective surgeries at Princess Margaret Hospital.
“Staff members are falling out because of heat,” he said. “You’re talking about wards where you have termite infestation. The reason we will be withdrawing services is when you go to the operating theatre, the air-condition in that place is not working, the X-ray room doesn’t have a cat scan, etc.”
Mr Burrows acknowledged the need to improve infrastructure but said officials did not get the impression from CPSA that subpar working conditions were a tipping point issue for the doctors.
“With the capital budget we are allocated, there is only so much that can be done in each fiscal period,” he said.