Thursday 21 March, 2019

Pierre calls on St Lucians to “fight for healthcare” this Sunday

Leader of the Opposition Philip J Pierre gave a statement last night on issues relating to the state of healthcare in the nation.

Here are 7 thematic takeaways from Pierre’s statement:

Deaths: “The reality is that people are dying on account of a worsening health care system while the government sits idly providing little hope of improvement to the health system. We cannot disregard this plea from the SLMDA, which I quote: “These deplorable circumstances in which we are expected to deliver healthcare services to the public accounts for the poor quality of our healthcare delivery outcomes and increasing numbers of unwarranted deaths, all continuing to spiral out of control.” Unquote.

These are the words of medical professionals. How long will it be before we or people close to us become victim to those circumstances? We cannot afford that risk. Our government must work every day to minimize that possibility. Putting a hospital project on hold for two years, when money is available to continue the work, is unconscionable.

Government’s stance on crisis: “Resent revelations by our healthcare professionals about unnecessary deaths taking place because of the inadequacy of existing facilities, must be a source of constant worry to the population. Asking “why are they speaking now” is inappropriate. What should be asked is why is the government treating those professionals with such disdain.

It is most disturbing that on the healthcare matters confronting us, the Prime Minister and government spokespersons have chosen to communicate to the nation in half-truths and, in many cases, absolute untruths and contradictory statements. Instead of being fully honest and transparent with key stakeholders like the St Lucia Medical and Dental Association, the Nurses Association, the Trade Union Federation and the general public they prefer to engage in providing conflicting information and ascribing improper motives to those who call upon them to account for the worsening state of our healthcare system.

It is a cause of worry when a government that was elected to preserve and protect the citizen’s right to healthcare is now actively engaged in destroying public confidence in healthcare professionals by making disparaging comments about their competence. That type of behavior is an indication that the government has lost its focus and is callous and uncaring as it relates to healthcare.

“While the government and its surrogates obfuscate, ascribe blame, continue to debate which political party should have completed the hospital, which door or corridor is too small or whether germs can penetrate drywall, people are dying, mothers are losing their new born babies, families are having anxious moments about the condition of loved ones at the George Odlum stadium.

The government must not continue to ignore the attempt by the Opposition, civil society groups, health, construction and engineering professionals to obtain clarity on the government’s plans for the hospitals. The Prime Minister cannot and should not continue to brush aside, snub, attack and even label as acts of terrorism genuine concerns expressed from so many quarters of our society.”

George Odlum stadium St Jude site: “During its four and a half years in government the Saint Lucia Labour Party’s only intention was to complete the construction and reopening of St. Jude Hospital to alleviate the plight of patients   at the temporary premises at the George Odlum Stadium. We continued to seek grants and sourced a $20M US loan from the Taiwanese government; all of which contributed to bringing the hospital close to completion by the year 2016.

The conditions at the George Odlum stadium have worsened and are now grossly unsatisfactory for administering proper healthcare to our sick brothers and sisters. What is the government’s response to the call from all quarters of our society to proceed with the completion of the nearly completed St. Jude Hospital? They choose instead to put $12 million into maintaining the temporary hospital facility at the George Odlum stadium.

Indeed, there is need to undertake some work at the stadium to stabilize the roof and some other urgent repairs. From all professional estimates those repairs can be achieved for significantly less.  Why then is the government choosing to inject $12 million into the stadium instead of using that money to bring the St. Jude redevelopment project closer to completion. And, if the government takes the $12 million and adds it to the $27million which is still available from the loan secured from Taiwan, by the SLP Government, completion of the hospital can be achieved well within the estimated time projected by experienced engineers and architects.”

Owen King EU privatization: “The SLP government never at any time contemplated the divestment of public health care services or the health system’s assets to any private entity.

As a party we strongly believe that the provision of accessible and affordable public health care is the responsibility of government and should be under the control of government.   In 2015 we passed the Millennium Heights Complex Act to provide the legal framework for the running of the OKEU hospital as a Statutory Board after wide consultation and discussion with professionals and health experts.

“As it relates to the OKEU Hospital, one minute the transitioning of the OKEU is continuing; the next minute it is put on hold; then the OKEU will not be privatized but on another occasion, talks are ongoing with private interests from the Cayman Islands and Canada to farm out health care services.”

Horses over health: “The government needs to treat the present situation of health care in the island particularly in the south as a matter of urgency, and with greater importance than investments in horse racing infrastructure and associated gambling facilities. The energy, drive and determination to facilitate a horse racing track and the well- being of horses is in shocking contrast to the time, energy and commitment given to the sick and vulnerable citizens at the George Odlum stadium. The Prime Minister is prepared to destroy a $21 million meat facility, the subject of a gift from the Republic of China on Taiwan and the abandonment of a near $100 million St Jude’s reconstruction project to accommodate an investment in horse racing infrastructure – which in his own words will not be a profit-making venture.”

SLP’s plan: “The SLP had a well thought out and coherent plan, to operationalize and manage both hospitals at the earliest possible date. The implementation of these plans was brought to a halt on June 6 2016.

“The Saint Lucia Labour Party administration of 2011-2016 had commissioned a study financed by the European Union called “Development of a Sustainable Financing Mechanism for the Saint Lucia Health Sector”.  The study completed in March 2015 had been discussed by the officials of the Ministry of Health and Finance after extensive discussions with all stakeholders including community groups.

Several financing options were proposed including:

1. Employment business earnings

2. A small portion of VAT earnings

3. Assignment of the insurance benefits in private plans

4. Payment by non-citizens for health care

These options were not prepared by politicians but by experienced health economists”

Call to action: “I call on all St Lucians at home and abroad to put aside their differences and come together to keep the pressure on this government within the framework of the law to ensure they provide accessible and affordable health care for all our citizens in the shortest possible time.

In closing, I take this opportunity to invite all Saint Lucians to a rally for St Jude and the fight for healthcare on Sunday 20th  May outside the Vieux Fort Square starting from 5.00 p.m. Come and show your concern.”

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