By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
SENIOR doctors pleaded with Health Minister Dr Duane Sands during a hastily arranged meeting last night to quickly resolve its dispute with junior doctors because of what the group’s leader called an “unprecedented crisis” at public healthcare facilities.
Dr Locksley Munroe, head of the Consultant Physician Staff Association, which represents senior doctors, said the junior doctors’ strike has put a massive strain on senior doctors.
“We indicated to the minister that as old people, senior physicians, because many of us are in our late 50s and early 60s, the burden that is being placed on us is not bearable at all and this has been going for nearly a week. We are asking that he bring this situation to a resolution or one that is satisfying to everybody,” he said.
Dr Munroe said the CPSA “definitively” supports the junior doctors and is willing to play a mediatory role in the dispute.
He said during the meeting Dr Sands expressed concern that if the government capitulates to the demands of the BDU, all other unions will expect similar treatment.
“It’s true they will do that,” he said, “but just like with the senior physicians, a lot of these issues from the junior doctors have been outstanding for years, some since 2010. Essentially the issues some of the other unions have are much more recent so you have to consider the timeline. You could tell the other unions the junior doctors have had these issues since 2010, so please give us time to at least sort out these and we could address your issues at a later date.”
A dispute over holiday pay is a major reason why the junior doctors are on strike. The BDU has said doctors have not been paid for working holiday while Dr Sands has said the two sides disagree about how to validate claims of who has worked holiday shifts.
Dr Munroe said in the last week, junior doctors have showed up to work but have only provided service in “life or death situations.”
“They kinda took away everything,” he said. “So if you ain’ bleeding to death, they say they are not going to be involved with that. They aren’t gone completely and they will do something when a senior physician asks, but their engagement has significantly diminished.”
A BDU source last night characterised their performance differently, saying junior doctors have performed emergency services and have helped at times to prevent emergencies from developing.
Describing his workload, Dr Munroe said he has had to see every patient in his service because junior doctors aren’t around; he has to personally discharge his patients and coordinate their follow-ups.
“Literally I have to answer the emergency room,” he said, “whereas the SHO (Senior House Officer) or resident would ordinarily answer it.”
Dr Munroe said health outcomes have been affected by the work stoppage, though he added this has been difficult to quantify.
“Which patient in a home whose diabetes is out of control who probably feels ‘well I can’t go to the hospital?’,” he said. “Which patient is at home whose blood pressure is high and they say, ‘oh, well I can’t go to the hospital?’”
Senior doctors are typically expected to work about 20 hours a week, but Dr Munroe said in the last week 40 to 50 of them have worked on average about ten to 12 hours more.
The CPSA has about 130 doctors and the BDU has about 420. Last night’s meeting, which lasted more than two hours, was attended by about 70 people, including the managing director of PHA, the hospital administrator and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health, Dr Munroe said.
He said he left the meeting with the impression that a resolution to the conflict is not imminent.
“Part of the thing is that the CPSA will try at a different level to speak with the junior doctors to see if there can be some kind of mediation. We’re not telling them what to do because that’s their issues and they have to deal with their issues but the plan is at some point between now and this morning we will speak to them,” he said.
Contacted last night, Dr Sands told The Tribune a resolution has not yet been reached.
“We are prepared to be as reasonable and to compromise as much as is reasonable and more based on good faith involvement of the prime minister, the cabinet, the Ministry of Health as well as PHA,” he said.