In last week’s edition of the STAR we reported on three separate incidents of alleged negligence on the part of hospital maternity staff here. These were but a few of many accounts of maternity-related incidents which have been reported over the years. Apart from those grieving mothers, patients in general have complained of their own experiences, voicing their dissatisfaction with the current health care system in Saint Lucia. However, several attempts by the STAR to gain clarity from the relevant authorities on these and other health-related matters have proved futile. But while they remain silent and unwilling to divulge information regarding the hospital and health-related matters, this has not silenced the voices of patients who claim to be affected by ‘the way things are being run”; neither has it stopped the number of incidents at the hospitals, some of them with deadly consequences.
One diabetic patient gave an account of his experience. He told The STAR, “My problem is that medical attention is very poor here. People have to wait so long in casualty before they are seen, sometimes from after six in the evening to the wee hours of the following morning. Sometimes they end up leaving out of frustration without being seen. I have even seen someone die while waiting.” He went on to say; “I think they should have a specific attendant, maybe even a supervisor, to go around within the waiting area and examine people. This way they can determine which persons need immediate attention. That business of waiting your turn has to stop. People are suffering unnecessarily while they wait, a few don’t even make it. You cannot tell me someone with a less major problem gets service faster than someone who is suffering chronically, just because they were there first. This is nonsense!”
Another patient suffering from heart disease complained of there being one doctor, at least most of the time, both in the accident and emergency department and in the clinics. “I have to wait for hours to see a doctor,” he said. “Sometimes I am in pain and really ill and have to sit waiting to be seen. I don’t want to be biased, sometimes you meet with some very empathetic nurses and some act like you just have to suffer and wait your turn.”
One patient we spoke with complained of the inconsistency of his medication in regard to availability and spoke of the cleanliness of some of the waiting areas. He said, “Sometimes my medication is not in stock and I have to go elsewhere and pay much more. And another thing, I don’t think they are sanitizing the seats in waiting areas enough; I have seen dust in certain places. This should not be. It is a hospital.”
While nurses admit to the hospital being short-staffed and not having enough doctors, according to them ‘their hands are tied.” They say they are doing the very best they can, adding that doctors most often have to “spread themselves thin” attempting to deal with several patients within a given time period. For the nurses, their cry is seemingly unanimous and most admit to giving of their best in spite the daily challenges which they face in terms of resources.
Two new hospitals, according to the government of Saint Lucia, are expected to be commissioned here in early 2016. These are the St. Jude’s hospital in Vieux Fort and the Owen King National Hospital along the Millennium Highway. The governor general, during her throne speech in May, pointed out that she was happy that the hospitals would be entrusted to “Boards” and that there would be an improvement in the quality of health care. “The government cannot be expected to pour millions of dollars into health institutions without accountability of expenditure and governance, or assessment of the quality of care offered by them,” she said. It was for this reason, according to the GG, that a “Quality Care Commission” was being set up to regulate, inspect and rate the quality of health care here.
This begs the question: in whose favour will this commission (like so many before it) be and at what cost? Or will it just be another exercise in futility like the health sector reform project undertaken by a Labour administration in 1997? Where is the Universal Health Care promised following the approval of the policy in 2000?
Amidst all the cries from within and without our hospital walls, will the public enjoy the privileges of an effective health care system? Meanwhile as they hope on a dream, and as continuous promises are made of better health care services here, the people suffer at best, some even die!