By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Doctors Union President Dr Melisande Bassett yesterday said Health Minister Dr Duane Sands has not lived up to the union’s “expectations”, urging the minister to be more “concerned” about junior doctors.
Speaking to The Tribune as the BDU strike stretched on for a third day, Dr Bassett noted the union had “higher hopes” for the health minister.
“We have not been able to sign off on the document as yet, so yes, the strike still is in effect," Dr Bassett said on Friday.
More than 400 junior doctors across the country went on strike Wednesday, frustrated by longstanding disputes.
The move has forced the nation’s public healthcare system into “emergency mode”, with the Public Hospitals Authority stating on Friday that only emergency cases will be handled at the Princess Margaret Hospital, Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, Rand Memorial Hospital and clinics in Grand Bahama.
The BDU was due to meet with Dr Sands on Thursday, and the union is scheduled to have a meeting at the Department of Labour with the Public Hospitals Authority on Monday.
On Friday, Dr Sands told The Tribune that Thursday’s meeting didn’t materialize. However, he said, he would be present at Monday's meeting chaired by Director of Labour John Pinder.
However, Dr Bassett said she had had a “telephone conference” with the health minister.
“I think we both realized that our matters could not be settled over the phone and that we actually needed to follow the Prime Minister’s advice and wait until Monday to have this meeting with an independent mediator present,” Dr Basset said.
Regarding the impact of the strike on health services, Dr Sands said: “The level of involvement of the junior doctors is less today than it was when the strike started.
“They are less engaged in the care of the patients,” Dr Sands continued, "so they have made it clear that they will participate in emergency care in the event that a patient is physiologically unstable. But that’s about it.”
The health minister added: “I think this is a great inconvenience to the Bahamian public and potentially creates a risk to the health and welfare of many ordinary Bahamians who are not a part of this.”
For her part, Dr Bassett underscored physicians are available to assist with patients where necessary while calling for Dr Sands to be more concerned about junior doctors.
“We respond to all of the calls (where) a patient is in distress, needs intervention,” Dr Bassett said. “If it’s life threatening we will facilitate and intervene. If its a code, we will be present. In some instances where there is no staff and there is a need for us to be present, we have made adjustments and allowed physicians to go in. Specifically for the paediatric and (neonatal) ICU, those are fully staffed by our physicians because of the critical nature of the patients.”
Regarding Dr Sand’s concerns about the effect of the strike on health services, Dr Bassett said: “I’m touched that he actually is concerned about them. And my question is: When are you concerned about your workers? When are you concerned about your staff? To deal with the issues that they have been voicing and pleading with you and knocking at your door asking you to address since 2010?"
“We care for the patients everyday. And they will tell you that we, for the most part, do a good job. Who cares for us? Who cares for the physician? It seems like there is no one…We have families too. Somebody needs to care.”
“If anything I think he should be more concerned about us because he worked with us. He worked shoulder to shoulder with us before? Why is it that all of a sudden now, people who he doesn’t have personal relationships with, their concerns he’s very concerned about, as we all are.”
In this vein, Dr Bassett said the health minister has not lived up to the union’s expectations.
“I think he has not lived up to our expectations. I can certainly say that without reservations. We had higher hopes that with him coming to the chair that we would have seen some innovative changes that would improve working conditions for the doctors as well as how…we manage patients; we would see a collaborative effort to improve healthcare all around.
“I know his focus has primarily been, for the most part, infrastructural. But you need the gopher to turn the wheel. You can’t ignore the gopher. So for us, our expectations have not been met.”
Major issues the doctors face include lack of compensation for years of holiday pay, junior doctors being offered one-year contracts, and housing for interns being taken away.
In a statement on Friday, the PHA classified emergencies as: gunshot wounds; chest pains; head injury; uncontrollable bleeding; loss of consciousness; major trauma or accident; asthma; severe allergic reaction; extensive burn injuries; fractures/broken bones; and deep lacerations and cuts.
Anyone unsure whether they should seek care at the Emergency Department can call 326-7014 in Nassau, or 350-6770 ext. 2158/2259 in Grand Bahama.