By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday there are plans to request money for more ambulances when his ministry submits its financial needs to the government for consideration in the new budget.
This request is one among many capital requests by his ministry, which Dr Sands admitted yesterday will most likely exceed whatever the final budget will be.
The parents of a 15-year-old boy who collapsed and died inside a Diary Queen nearly two weeks ago raised the question of whether there are sufficient ambulances in the capital.
Ambulance response times have also been pinpointed in a newly released United States report.
“There is a request for many things included in the capital requests,” Dr Sands told The Tribune. “But again bear in mind the budget goes from bottom up so every single agency and facility creates a wish list that then goes up through either Public Health or Public Hospitals Authority then comes over to the Ministry of Health and then to Finance, then Cabinet and the House (of Assembly) decides on the budget.
“Obviously the prime minister will spend quite a bit of time looking at it and tweaking it to determine whether or not it comports with the government’s priorities.
“So what is in the budget right now will likely exceed what will be in the final budget.
“We can put in a request for 100 ambulances right now but that’s unlikely to be in the final approved budget.”
The United States’ Overseas Security Advisory Council highlighted ambulance response times in a report that notes deficiencies of public medical facilities.
“Medical facilities are limited, and not equipped to handle many emergencies, particularly those requiring surgery,” the 2019 report read. “Adequate medical care is available on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands, but more limited on the Family Islands. Some private clinics offer basic primary care.
“There is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital, the country’s largest public hospital. Travellers with rare blood types should know the names and locations of possible blood donors should the need arise.”
It also said: “Ambulance service is available on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands, but may not be able to respond quickly in the event of a major emergency or disaster.”
Crime and criminal threats in New Providence were also highlighted.
“There is serious risk from crime in Nassau, and considerable risk in Freeport. Crime represents the country’s primary security threat. Royal Bahamas Police Force statistics for 2018 highlight an overall drop in crime from 2017.
“According to RBPF statistics, the number of murders decreased by 25 percent compared to 2017. The number of robberies and attempted robberies decreased; however, the number of rapes increased slightly. The majority of murders occurred in the southern portion of New Providence (the island home to Nassau and Paradise Island). June was the deadliest month, followed by January and December.
“In Grand Bahama, the number of murders decreased by 45 percent, but overall crime remained constant, with drug trafficking as the major concern.”
Despite the publicised numbers, incidents involving US citizens - mostly rape, sexual assault, and robbery/theft - increased by 32 percent, the report said. Armed robbery, property crime, purse snatching, theft, fraud, and sexual assault remain the most common crimes perpetrated against tourists.
“The RBPF increased assertive policing methods, which included high-visibility checkpoints, focused raids, and a robust presence in tourist areas. Most reported violence perpetrated against Bahamians occurred in areas of saturated criminality tourists do not typically visit. However, New Providence has witnessed crime in locations tourists frequent. Gangs are involved in targeted violence.
“There were eleven police-involved shootings resulting in death in 2018; an additional nine police shootings resulted in non-life threatening injuries.”
The report further noted increased road traffic accidents, calling incidents of traffic fatalities a major concern.
It noted a 29 percent increase in traffic related deaths since 2017.
“Traffic congestion in Nassau is prevalent. Drivers occasionally display antagonistic tendencies and drive recklessly, passing on the right into oncoming traffic. Many motorists disobey stop signs, speed limits, and traffic signals.”
Police have increased enforcement of traffic laws, but it is less than US standards, the report added.
“Visitors, particularly pedestrians, cyclists, and runners, should exercise extreme caution. While it is against the law, drinking and driving is common; police infrequently enforce the ban, resulting in numerous traffic accidents and fatalities, including some involving tourists on foot or on motor scooters.
“Traffic accidents pose a safety hazard in some parts of The Bahamas, primarily due to intolerant drivers speeding and driving recklessly. On many islands, the roads are two-way, poorly illuminated, in need of maintenance and repair, and not designed for high-speed travel.
“Some major streets do not have adequate shoulders or even passable sidewalks, compelling pedestrians to walk in oncoming traffic. Motorcyclists frequently swerve through slow traffic and drive between lanes of moving vehicles.
“Poorly maintained or excessively loaded vehicles also use the roadways. Passengers regularly ride in the back of trucks without any safety restraints; and although required by law, motorcyclists often do not wear helmets. Roads on the outer Family Islands can be narrow, winding, and in poor condition,” the report also said.