Health sector collapsing, minister missing, APNU/AFC busy avoiding elections

It is really sad – while APNU/AFC is obsessed with illegally trying to avoid an election due since March 21 and again due on September 18, the health sector is falling apart. Worse, they are not aware or don’t even care. Right now, the Region 6 health sector is reeling from non-functioning X-Ray and Laboratory services. Unfortunately, malfunctioning services have become chronic at New Amsterdam Hospital. Even more unfortunate is non-functioning X-Ray and other services have become chronic across the health sector in all ten regions.
If anyone is still shocked the X-Ray services in New Amsterdam is not operational, imagine how people must feel that the Georgetown Hospital X-Ray services are also once again not working. While we are at it, news have been simmering of the chronic non-functioning operating theatre at West Demerara Hospital.
There is still the problem of inadequate electricity at Skeldon, causing a rationing of equipment use. While the ministers were ebullient a few weeks ago commissioning a refurbished kitchen at the New Amsterdam Hospital, they ignored there still in no functioning mortuary at the New Amsterdam Hospital. The operating theatre at Suddie is either dead or limping along, with more than 90% downtime this year. Similar problems exist at Linden and other hospitals around the country.
The Port Mourant Ophthalmology Centre has not done a cataract surgery since 2015. A few weeks ago, the Minister herself boasted cataract surgery has returned to the institution when an American military medical team visited and completed dozens of surgeries. But since then, we have returned to status quo – no cataract surgery.
Now and then, the Health Minister shows up from her invisible act to commission something and behaves as if health is enjoying the “good life”. But the non-functioning X-Ray services at the New Amsterdam Hospital is due to another chronically chronic problem – unavailability of medicines and medical supplies. Supplies required for the X-ray services are not available. In spite of billions of dollars in illegal sole-sourcing, supplies are either not procured or are not being distributed.
GPHC now provides CT services on site and this is progress. But access to CT diagnostic services is not new for GPHC or public hospital patients. These were available since 2005. The Ministry of Health then had arranged for the private sector to provide CT services for patients from the GPHC and other public hospitals, with the Ministry and GPHC paying for the services from the private sector.
While CT on site at the GPHC makes access easier for patients from the GPHC, these patients are required to pay as much as $15,000 for each CT. For those who cannot pay, there is a long wait for the Ministry to process their application for payment assistance, often denied.
The sector’s budget has increased significantly, this cannot be denied. But the question is where have the extra billions gone. The downtime in operating theatres across the country has become chronic and is worse right at this moment than at any time in the last two decades. The downtime in X-Ray services similarly have become scandalous, more downtime than working time in some hospitals. Certainly X-Ray services at both New Amsterdam and Skeldon have experienced more down time than working time. The continued shortage of medical supplies and medicines has made diagnostic and treatment services in the public sector unreliable, in spite of more money being spent.
Meanwhile, human resource management brings greater dismay. Young Guyanese doctors graduating from Cuba have left the public sector in droves, some working in the private sector, but others migrating. Conditions of work have deteriorated and no one seems to care.
Non-taxable allowances that doctors received in the past are now taxable. Conditions under which doctors gain access to post-graduate programmes have become onerous. Thoughtless transfers of doctors around the country have caused major dissatisfaction. No one seems to care, no one listens to the problem’s doctors and nurses face.
The Minister of Public Health is clueless. Worse, for almost a year now, she has been less a Minister of Public Health and more the Chairman of the PNC. As the problems mount, the Minister is even scarcer, even more missing in action.
The constitutional crisis the country faces right now because APNU/AFC is too scared of an election does not mean we have a licence to ignore important sectors like health— even for a caretaker government. But that is exactly what is happening right now.

Dr Leslie Ramsammy