THE Democratic National Alliance is, we are sure, well intentioned and wants the best for the Bahamas. It raises its hand to speak every so often, makes a few points which we already pretty much know all about and then disappears back into the shadows.
This week saw a perfect example of this when DNA leader Arinthia Komolafe called on Health Minister Dr Duane Sands to provide the nation with a “comprehensive plan” for the health care system.
Obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses were all issues Dr Sands should be shouting out about, said Mrs Komolafe.
At the same time, she told us, the health service was being subjected to a brain drain with nurses, doctors and other health specialists being lured away by higher salaries overseas.
Where on earth has Mrs Komolafe been?
Almost since the moment he stepped into office Dr Sands has been screaming from the rooftops warning that we are in the depths of a health crisis led by obesity and diabetes. We can’t imagine there’s little more he can say to warn the public of the dangerous diets they follow which are devastating families across our nation with little sign of the crisis slowing down.
Brain drain? Just google his name and read the stories where he warns time and again that our medical staff are leaving in droves for the U.S. where salaries, way beyond what we can afford, are readily available.
As for a “comprehensive plan” if Mrs Komolafe wants one - and in this she has a point - achieving it needs us all to accept some hard truths. If we really want to improve the health service to the standard we would like it is going to hurt us all.
The fact is Dr Sands doesn’t have enough money. None of the government departments do. What we raise in revenue through customs duties, VAT, business licences, Property Tax and Gaming doesn’t pay the bills.
For the health service the reality is the vast majority of the money Finance Minister Peter Turnquest allocates to Dr Sands is swallowed up by staff wages - which Dr Sands knows are below what hospitals across the U.S. can easily better.
What money Dr Sands - and the Public Hospitals Authority - has left to play with just about keeps our hospitals and clinics in operation. We’re not being funny but we are literally sticking a plaster over the cracks.
How many times have we had to report on an unrepaired roof, broken ACs, kitchens and laundries that don’t work, wards closed down, hospital infections rampant through lack of simple hygienic good practices?
Go inside the Princess Margaret Hospital for half an hour and you can see for yourself the problem. It takes your breath away. In the last 18 months there has been some progress led by a few driven individuals who have charged into battle and done what they can, driving change within the institutions and badgering individuals outside in the wealthier communities of The Bahamas to dig into their pockets and help out.
But without real change the “comprehensive plan” Mrs Komolafe demands will never come.
That real change is going to involve things like some form of taxation of both business and individuals, the acceptance that when you receive a service from the government - student loans, water, medical treatment, your National Insurance contributions - you have to pay them.
Remember also in case you missed it the half dozen times Dr Sands has told us: something in the region of $780 million in fees owed to our health service is uncollected.
Some time ago a suggestion was raised which would help the health service take a short cut to the level of care to which we all aspire. This involved partnering with world leading medical providers Johns Hopkins. It’s not that radical an idea as some may think.
Some years ago the PHA handed over the private rooms at the Princess Margaret Hospital to an organisation most readers don’t know of - the Physicians Alliance, a group of local Bahamian health specialists. It runs the private areas of the PMH and shares revenues raised back to the PHA. Clearly looking at the state of the PMH there isn’t enough money being earned to make even a dent in the work that needs to be done in the public areas.
The point here is if we are happy to hand over part of the health service to a private organisation why not do the same with the whole thing, especially when the partner is the world leader in its field?
Isn’t that precisely what the Minnis administration has done in partnering with Global Ports downtown?
Dr Sands said in the budget debate the talks with Johns Hopkins were ongoing. May we suggest a little more effort be put into the negotiations - it’s hard to imagine anyone in the country would want to stand in the way of delivering the health service which we all desire.
Now that would be a comprehensive plan of which to be proud.