As the countdown to the commissioning of the New National Hospital begins, a high ranking delegation of officials from the Ministry of Health (MOH) held what it promises was the first of a monthly schedule of press updates to apprise the nation on the achievement of milestones with respect to the completion of the New National Hospital Complex (NNHC). Led by the Minster for Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations Hon. Alvina Reynolds, the Ministry team included Permanent Secretary Cointhia Thomas, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Merlene Fredericks and Chief Health Planner Mr. Wenn Gabriel. On hand as well was Liam McManus, the construction site Supervisor with British based Engineering firm Sir Frederick Snow and Partners Ltd. Punctuating the updates provided by the Minister was a reaffirmation of government’s commitment to complete the construction phase of the NNH by December 31st 2012, and details on the implementation of the second phase of Universal Healthcare (UHC) which involves free medical care for hypertensive patients. Minister Reynolds disclosed that the NNH commissioning phase is expected to take approximately six months, with the formal opening of the doors of the new hospital set for June 2013; while the process will include activities such as equipping, outfitting of kitchen and laundry and signage among others. “Moreover, some facts are important to note, namely that we are talking about not just a new national hospital, but of a hospital complex through the amalgamation of the New National Hospital, the National Mental Wellness Centre and the Turning Point Drug Rehabilitation Centre. Additionally, expansion of services above what currently obtains at VH will characterize the NNH, with the inclusion of improved diagnostic services such as CT Scan, MRI as well as Day Surgeries.” A re-organization of the governance structure of the medical facility will attend to the issue of the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability in the management of the organization, the Minister expounded. Describing the construction and commissioning components of the NNH as but one component of a broad-based plan of the ministry to re-organize and re-focus the health sector in Saint Lucia, the Minister located the NNH initiative within the broader reform of the public health care sector. “During this financial year Infrastructural improvements will be undertaken to the Gros Islet Polyclinic, the La Guerre Health Centre, and the new Dennery Hospital among others. Opening hours will be extended at the Gros Islet Polyclinic to cater for the needs of this rapidly developing part of the country,” Minister Reynolds disclosed. Other elements of this plan include: 1. Expanding and strengthening community-based health services through the upgrading of the Gros Islet Polyclinic to an extended hour diagnostic facility ; and by converting other major primary healthcare facilities such as the La Guerre Health Centre and the new Dennery Hospital into Urban Polyclinics which will better cater to the needs of our rapidly developing country. 2. Ensuring a cadre of well-trained and motivated staff (including returning Cuban trained nurses), who are sensitive to the needs of patients. 3. Improving and expanding the St. Lucia Health Information System (SLUHIS) to support planning and delivery of health services. 4. Continuing the Universal Health Care agenda which was first implemented by Government in 2006. Under this program, diabetics and persons with both diabetes and hypertension receive free medication. The MOH will thus establish the second phase of UHC in which all persons with hypertension will receive free medication before the end of the financial year. 5. Implementation of legislative reforms to support health reforms 6. Improving health infrastructure to support the delivery of quality services.