One week after Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC) is offering world-class care, hospital employees are saying the health-care system is on the verge of collapse.
Inside sources tell REAL News that everything needed to deliver timely treatment and effective care is either in short supply or out of stock altogether.
Of greatest concern, says one nurse, is that only emergency surgeries can be undertaken at this time, because there are not enough supplies – including anesthesia – to stock the Operation Rooms (OR).
Accordingly, she says, persons whose elective surgeries were delayed for the past two-three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic are still unable to have their operations done.
The sources allege that “basic equipment to perform special surgeries is not available,” which has forced staff to improvise, even with pieces brought over from the old Holberton Hospital.
In terms of customer service, many residents have accused the Medical Centre of being callous when it comes to wait times. But the staff say they, too, are perturbed by this shortcoming.
With embarrassment, they acknowledge that, “most times, admissions are untimely due to lack of beds” and this sometimes results in persons having to be sent back home.
While this is happening, both staff and the public are aware that the Ministry of Health appropriated the Nugent Avenue technical-school building over a year ago to create a satellite hospital.
But although the ribbon-cutting and naming ceremony took place since 2021, the facility has never been commissioned, and reports say its refurbishment remains incomplete.
Another challenge – that is affecting the community clinics, as well – is the reported severe shortage of staple vaccines. Sources tell REAL News that the Ministry of Health recently “borrowed” some of these drugs from St. Kitts, with the understanding that they would be replaced.
However, Antigua and Barbuda has not received any vaccines from its distributors, to date, the sources say. Reportedly, this is because the suppliers are owed by the Government and are refusing to ship more drugs until they have been paid.
About two weeks ago, news broke that the local Pharmacy Council was unable to issue licenses to the companies importing prescription drugs and other pharmaceuticals.
Reports said that a request for a mere $2,000 for printing supplies had not been honoured, and that members of the Council were also owed for their services since 2019.
“It’s bad, bad, bad. Shameful. The hospital needs help – from the Emergency Room to the OR to the ICU,” a nurse says. “Doctors and nurses are getting frustrated and are leaving. Right now, another 10 nurses are planning to resign,” another one claims.
Ironically, PM Browne told the public, last week, that he and his wife, MP Maria Bird Browne, had just undergone their annual medical checks in the United States.
One source is not surprised by their decision, since he alleges that the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre is not up to the standard required by the US-based Joint Commission, which undertakes international accreditation.
In its defence, however, an official tells REAL News that SLBMC is not “immune to the challenges being faced by other hospitals – or by other organisations, generally, for that matter.”
“Some of the challenges we’re experiencing have more to do with delays in manufacturing, shipping, and shortages on the market and less to do with ability to purchase,” the hospital official asserts.
Countering this, the inside sources say they are aware that the Browne Administration withdrew funds from the Medical Benefits Scheme – said to be $37 million – shortly after assuming office. And they believe this massive withdrawal is partly responsible for the state in which the public healthcare system now finds itself.
When questioned on this matter recently in Parliament, PM Browne, the Minister of Finance, claimed the monies will not be replaced, since these trust funds were “a grant” to the Government.
… In other system-wide woes, yesterday, August 22, REAL News reported that the lack of pipe-borne water at the Pathology Department had caused the suspension of autopsies – even as some families allegedly have been waiting for weeks on end to bury their dead.
On Monday, too, the Ministry of Health was forced to close the Glanvilles Polyclinic “due to unforeseen circumstances” – which persons claim, again, was the lack of running water.
The insiders report that the All Saints Clinic was also closed that day on account of a leaking roof, while the Villa facility allegedly had a shut-down one day last week.
Meanwhile, the Rural East Branch of the United Progressive Party is currently engaged in a supplies-drive for the Clare Hall Clinic. The list of items solicited includes things as basic as scissors, folders, toilet paper, and garbage bags.
Despite the seriousness of the public-health situation, the sources say that Minister of Health Sir Molwyn Joseph has been remarkably silent and is absent from duty.