Healthy Debate

Image of the relocated St. Jude Hospital at the George Odlum Stadium.

It’s easy to simply curse ‘the politicians’ for politicizing the issues in the ongoing debate about the state of the nation’s health. Or, to blame the doctors and accuse them of taking sides in a political game. But proper prognosis and prescription will show it’s more than just that.

At the very heart of the matter is that Saint Lucians at home, as human beings, each have an individual right to good health, starting with access to proper medical facilities.

Every government pledges to deliver the best healthcare and related facilities. The last three administrations have presided over the vast improvement of our physical health infrastructure. New facilities (health centres, polyclinics and hospitals, etc.) have been built, at phenomenal cost.

There was momentum in the movement. But for reasons yet well explained, visible progress has come to a near halt, as transitional convulsions complicate and delay delivery of the improved healthcare product – again, for reasons ranging from sheer partisan political expediency to bellyaching forced adaptation to the established rules and regulations associated with projects mainly funded by international bodies.

There’s also still a wide gap between government’s prescriptions for better healthcare and that of the groupings representing the nation’s medical practitioners, including nurses, who on International Nurses Day called for ‘a people-centred’ healthcare service that also recognizes the human factor that they too have equal rights to the best healthcare possible.

The political parties and respective politicians will always make the most hay while this sun still shines. But in resulting to-and-fro, all sides reveal more about their respective positions – and in less time.

Engineers and architects, public and private technocrats, medical and nursing groups have had their professional says. The Opposition Leader and the Office of the Prime Minister have just had related exchanges. The Labour Party and the UWP have each advertised related public meetings and related public outreach activities to better explain their positions in the days ahead.

The political divide is at this point is stitched by the common thread of an inescapable need for both major parties to respond to each other. Here again, the public benefits, even from just knowing.

But the theatre of operations is still slow: the new national (OKEU) hospital is yet to start accepting patients; and the future of St. Jude Hospital is still up in the air, with the roof of the George Odlum Stadium to get a million-dollar pre-hurricane makeover, while patients ponder on when they will be transplanted elsewhere.

The government is clearly heading in the direction of privatization of national health services. The related debate is over how this will be done. But whatever prescription applied will require a complicated, if not surgical financial operation.

So, what is to be done? Should we borrow a template from elsewhere, or develop one from our own experience? Should we follow a working example from India, or enlarge and transplant a smaller sample from a closer and smaller community like the Cayman Islands?

Much has been spent on St. Jude and much more on OKEU. Quite a lot has also been spent on the intervening investigations and reports, in addition to the continuing costs of implementation delays and related indecision. But more will also have to be spent before this unhealthy situation is brought under control and healthcare here is given the life, the current and evolving infrastructure was designed and built to deliver.

Quite a lot is at stake and thus the high level of interest by the political parties, government and opposition, professionals and laymen, all interested in the present and future of a national healthcare system they will have to rely on.

The ongoing discussion, debate and related actions are not just simply good. More than that, it’s all quite healthy.

Let it continue…

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