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EDITORIAL: Stabilizing health care

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Stabilizing health care

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It is time to face facts about our health care.
During this week’s NATION?Talkback town hall meeting, several of them were laid bare for the benefit of the packed gathering in the auditorium of St Leonard’s Boys’ Secondary School.
Firstly, the cost of health care has spiralled over the past 15 years or so, moving from $187 million to $486 million. That’s a 150 per cent increase.
It was Minister of Health Donville Inniss who also pointed out that some 60 per cent of the national health budget, or $250 million, goes towards the treatment of chronic non-communicable diseases and that the state-run Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), unsurprisingly, accounts for more than half of the total figure.
Also of concern is the fact that $53 million was spent during the last financial year on drugs. And that’s only for those provided through the Barbados Drug Service.
Add to that figure the $17 million spent annually on drugs by the QEH, which has nothing to do with the budget for drugs at the Barbados Defence Force and the prison.
If those facts still don’t move you, maybe this week’s report out of the United States that a growing shortage of medications for a host of illnesses – from cancer to cystic fibrosis to cardiac arrest – is leaving hospitals scrambling for substitutes, and sometimes even delaying treatment, would give you pause.
The prognosis seems grim.
“It’s just a matter of time now before we call for a drug that we need to save a patient’s life and we find out there isn’t any,” warned Dr Eric Lavonas of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
In the same AP article, University of Utah pharmacist Erin Fox further cautioned that “shortages create the perfect storm for a medication error to happen”.
What’s particularly scary for us here in Barbados is that we have already had at least one situation this past month where the QEH ran out of the cancer-fighting drug Paclitaxel, and indications were then that other drugs were in short supply.
As has been noted by Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, the problem of drug supply shortages is nothing new. Nonetheless, we must take steps now to address what she has termed “the antiquated method of monitoring demand and supply of drugs, weak internal systems and external contractual processes [that are] in need of urgent revision”.
What the official was really saying was that poor administration was at fault.
We await her ministry’s announcement of the next steps to prevent a recurrence.
On the wider question of health care, however, we have to acknowledge that there is a limit to what the Government can realistically do, especially in this era of rising prices. We therefore have to face the fact that our free national health care system is unsustainable.
But, even as we move to a new system in which those who can afford to pay will have to pay, special provision must be made for the elderly and the indigent. It is heart-rending when you hear the daily horror stories and view the indignity suffered by those less fortunate in this society, especially when it comes to matters of health. The long waits for them to receive medication and medical attention, particularly at the QEH, must of necessity be reduced. We also have to do something about waiting conditions at our polyclinics and hospital, where greater emphasis also needs to be placed on NISE service.  
Just as with education, good health and access to proper health care should always be viewed as a right, regardless of one’s status.
By the same token, we all need to take better care of our personal health. That means greater attention to diet and exercise and general wholesome living.
As the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure.