Measures are apace to root-out all unscrupulous health professionals who are demanding that patients pay for services that are available free of cost from the public health system.
This is according to Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, who revealed recently that there have been constant reports that this practice persists unabated at a number of public health facilities.
“In some cases it is very difficult for us to determine that this is happening…I am the Minister of Health and I know this is happening but to prove that in all the instances is another matter because people would say ‘I’m going to tell you but I don’t want my name to be recorded’.”
However, the Minister expressed satisfaction that in the past year there has been more willingness on the part of some people to document cases.
And this development, he said, has been instrumental in seeing the resignation of at least two doctors. “One could query whether it was really resignation because a resignation made voluntarily and one where you don’t have a choice is another matter.
“People always have an explanation when they are confronted with these things…but I must say that the prevalence of these things is much less than it was five years ago, particularly in certain places and for certain kinds of services.”
The Minister said that it has come to his attention that there have been instances when patients have had to pay for caesarean section undertaken at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). He recounted that there was one such case recently.
And, according to him, there have been constant such complaints that similar practices are rampant at the West Demerara Regional Hospital.
“I have said before, and I believe that maybe we can do better, but even if we do the best job we wouldn’t be able to stop it completely,” Minister Ramsammy noted.
There have been reports that some patients are made to pay in excess of $100,000 for surgical operations, a situation the Minister said is “totally unacceptable.”
“I wish, and I am working on this, that I could pass some law that if I find somebody (health worker) charging somebody in a manner that is not authorised that their license could be taken away and they could be jailed.
“It is thievery; it is the most blatant thievery and I am not saying health workers don’t deserve to be paid more, but the public service is for free service and no citizen should have to pay for that service, particularly since that payment is not going into Government’s coffers but rather in somebody’s pocket (and that person) is already being paid to deliver that service.”
It is the Minister’s conviction that if health workers are not satisfied with their current remuneration, they could simply render their service to the private sector, even as he warned that doctors within the sector should seek to keep their private and public obligations separate.
“There is still a large number of people who tend to mask the thing and treat the public sector as if it is the private sector that is absolutely and unequivocally unacceptable.”
He admitted, though, that the Ministry of Health has in fact not done all that could be done to stop the practice, a development that must be reversed with much urgency.
He asserted that the public must work in collaboration with the Ministry of Health if such practices are to be eliminated. Persons visiting public institutions, he noted, must be aware that “medicine, including chemotherapy medicine for cancer and laboratory tests offered by the public health sector, have no charges attached… Seeing the doctor has no cost and no surgery that is done in this sector has a charge,” he asserted.
However, the Minister noted that there are about two operations available at the GPHC that would see patients having to pay a considerably subsidised amount.
These, he said, are the cardiac operations offered by the Caribbean Heart Institute and the joint replacement surgeries. “These have charges because they represent public/private partnership. At CHI if the services provided were not subsidised they would cost two, three or even four times more.”
For the joint replacement patients do not pay for the actual operation but they pay just for a percent of the cost of the prosthesis, Minister Ramsammy said.
“It is about US$2,500 and we ask persons to pay just US$1,000. The cost of the whole thing would be about US$7,000 and more than 60 percent of the people who go for that service come to us for assistance.
“So about 90 percent of the cost of that service is paid for by the government…” Minister Ramsammy added.
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