St Kitts – Nevis healthcare shortage and shame

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By Special Correspondent

Right after part one of the two-part article, on the plight of health care workers in St Kitts – Nevis was published, the Ministry of Health summoned a meeting of nurses Tuesday, May 5 to announce a pay raise for the nurses, retroactive January 2020.

The Ministry told the nurses that the government had planned and prepared for this long before, however, were only now getting to the nurses with the good news.

While happy for the deserved pay raise, which they had been seeking for years, the nurses asked about risk pay and the conditions of work (a years-long complaint by health workers), and upgrades for nursing assistants, nurses aids, EMS workers, junior doctors, orderlies, technicians, and the whole range of health workers.

The answer they got, we are told, was that those things would have to be given due consideration. It appears that the nurses will not sit back and allow these matters to linger.

Meanwhile, the junior doctors, many of whom are graduates of Cuban medical schools, have been catching rough times and desperately need their situation addressed.

They were told that they needed to go through 12 months of training orientation because their basic training in Cuba exposed some practical gaps which needed to be filled by gaining more experience and training in the public sector health system.

Under this arrangement, they have not been allowed to go into private practice, during their orientation period, which is understandable. Fine, and fair enough. And they’ve been going through the process.

Their major sources of discomfort, concern, frustration, and demoralization have been: (i) the disrespect which they claim has been dished out to them by their medical superiors and by the Junior Minister of Health, Wendy Phipps, a nominated parliamentarian; and (ii) the small pay that they receive.

We’re told that there are ten junior doctors in this category, working full time, nine of whom are not appointed to the civil service establishment, with no security of tenure, and are being paid reduced salaries ( at staff nurse level), with no Government health insurance, etc.

Most of them have to catch public transport to get to and from work because they cannot afford a car. One of them even got a job in a fast-food restaurant in Basseterre in a desperate effort to make ends meet.

One inside report claims that the junior doctors were threatened about four weeks ago, that if they didn’t like it they could quit, and that doctors could be imported from Cuba to replace them at an even lower cost to the Government.

The young doctors are demoralized and frightened. They want to learn their craft, serve and save the people of their country, but they are being punished. It seems that certain persons have arrogated unto themselves the authority to decide who eats shrimp and who eats sardine, Vienna sausage, or dry bread.

Disrespected, untenured, demoralized, threatened, and bullied — the young doctors, who are willing learners and diligent workers, and are working hard to learn their craft as they heal and bring comfort to sick people, will sooner or later crack under this cruel and oppressive pressure. The consequences could be disastrous, not only for them but also for their families and patients.

The present administration has found it very easy to take taxpayers’ money to stay in posh hotel rooms at a princely $500 US dollars, 500 pounds sterling, and 500 Euros per night, and upwards — fly business class, and gorge themselves with high-priced cuisine all over the world (the nine-member Cabinet’s collective body weight has increased by about 200 lbs over the last five years), generously and conspicuously indulging themselves at public expense.

They can’t find small change to procure paracetamol tablets for the hospitals or health centers, or relatively small money to take care of the young doctors and other health workers. The Government seems unable or unwilling to have a conscience, compassion, respect; and to stop bullying and intimidating them.

In a nutshell, a bottle of paracetamol containing 100 tablets costs about EC $9 in St Kitts – Nevis … shortage. Big-shots feasting and frolicking on public resources while the junior doctor has to seek employment in a fast food restaurant to help make ends meet … shame.

15 COMMENTS

  1. From nurses to Doctors now. Pay the people their money. How can they function if they have all these stress. People lives at risk here. Look at the bigger picture. It’s shameful to see this is what our little country has come to.

  2. All health care workers should come together and demand immediate CHANGES!
    To the Nurses:
    It would be BEST if you refuse that increase in salary UNTIL all demands are met. And if demands are not met then STRIKE. Nurses had the ball in their court and allowed it to roll out 🤦‍♀️🤷🏼‍♀️
    Doctors:
    Junior Dr’s need to blame not ONLY Wendy Phipps but Dr. Wilkinson.
    As Chief of staff he has the authority to demand that you get appointment. Demand that you get pay at the right scales and demand suitable working conditions. In the past Dr’s returned from Cuban and in less than a year have opened private practices BUTT “Kisses go by Favour” and if Dr’s will always defend Dr’s then Dr’s should support Dr’s.

    This article should not be going back and forth… one day postings cries of nurses and the next day that of doctors…
    It’s simple…
    1. The health minister Wendy Phipps NEED/Must Go
    2. Dr. Wilkinson need to focus more on his duties of chief of staff instead of look 👀 for ‘lime light’ just focusing on anything money
    3. Respect need to go across the board for all health care workers
    4. Ethics committees need to be establish in JNF
    5. JNF desperately needs Administrative and Operation Manager(s)

    The End

  3. This article is completely accurate. It’s a literal slap in the face after I heard doctors were held up in a secret meeting and threatened to be replaced by Cubans, yet those doctors were also trained in Cuba …that just sound like bad-mind to me.

  4. Shameful! Shame! Shame! Shame! Junior doctors are always abused in the Caribbean. We face the same in The Bahamas.

  5. Imagine the same Wilkinson was boasting on TV and SKN Times that 16 doctors in A and E but failed to mention that only 2 of them appointed and the rest working in slavery. And he sees no problem in exploiting them for image of his government all the while not even paying them properly or sorting them out.
    Imagine corona going around and they working risking they life and no pension or insurance in place and the pay is little bit. So if they end up dying they just die. Where else in the world; doctor abused so badly under Cameron Wilkinson? He needs to go.

  6. It makes me sad and mad to hear about the appalling way that nurses and junior doctors are being treated in St Kitts and Nevis. They deserve every penny they earn and much more. The government needs to step up and do the right thing.

  7. Once again I am thankful for the increase given to some nursing personnel. I am still waiting to here what will happen to the nurse assistants and attendants.
    Let me just say that the doctors work hard and spend years studying. I listened to a briefing given by Dr Wilkinson where he boosted about the number of doctors assigned to A&E due to the covid-19 pandemic. Low and behold only to learn that 10 of these doctors who are helping to keep us safe and well are not being paid properly. Worst yet they are not even considered civil servants and were threatened to be replaced. That is shameful. When are we going to stop the victimization. Well with no health insurance these doctors are walking into a death trap daily. Please Dr Wilkinson as the medical chief of staff do the right thing and look after your own colleagues.

  8. Nationals are dissatisfied with the health care system, for no other reason than: the needed investments into health care has not been made. The country is operating on overworked and underpaid workers. A lack of resources and to top it off a condescending leader. We can do better. Simple discipline of life: Unsatisfied workers = unsatisfactory service. Give what is needed to the sector, a sector than should always been at the forefront on the priority table.

  9. This is utterly disturbing. A rather distasteful information. Health workers should be given the necessary incentives required such as monetary and improved working environment since the service they provide is out of their love for humanity. The least a government could do, is to be appreciative of their humanitarian services and provide them with the necessaries. Come on, let’s be reasonable.They are humans too with needs like others.

    They aren’t asking for the impossible and a country can run brain drain of these indispensable public servants. It’s absurd that after one studies for several years to become a health professional to serve their population but tragically have to resort to serving them in a restaurant just to make a living.

    Better can and should be done to address their plight forthwith, since it is imperative at this dreadful moment caused by coronavirus (COVID-19). The St.Kitts and Nevis government can DO BETTER. Many countries have adopted a positive position with respect to their valuable health professionals and are cognizant of their importance. What is the St. Kitts and Nevis government still waiting for.

    • I agree with this Oms Moffett individual. I think above all else, we have drifted so far from our basic pillars of society. Gone are the days of RESPECT, HUMILITY and LOVE.

      Many of those in power forget what it was like when they were younger and people with status would look down on their families because of their lack of status. Some believe that they’ve “made it” now so they forget it all. Gone so far from the days of playing with friends and strangers in the neighborhood out of childhood innocence.

      In talking about respect and humility, it bridges all social gaps. I grew up in a house where my granny’s best friend was more educated and had more money than her but the disparity was never noticed. They respected each other as human beings and spoke and laughed and looked out for the wellbeing of each other. Humility works by lowering ourselves enough to consider our fellow humans more important than even ourselves. It serves as an elevation platform for those around us. What’s the point of becoming a prominent member of society just to become an egocentric, “stingy dog”? How can a man look at a young person who went away to study for the purpose of bettering their country and have the audacity to tell them that if they’re unsatisfied that they will get replaced? I think that is just the lowest and most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard. You were given this position to better your country, but yet still you feel a sense of entitlement to be able to let such a statement leave your mouth. Crushing dreams and enthusiasm of these young doctors.

      It’s just easy to live in comfort, security of job, insurance and position and forget about what it was like to be in a situation of unemployment with no promise of insurance. Doctors should not get paid just because they’re doctors but we should be mindful that they are human beings, with families and some with children who one day will want to grow up to contribute to everyone’s society. I believe that those in power should focus on doing what is right For their country and breaking the cycle of abuse and exploitation of the citizens.

      Or maybe the politicians and those in power prefer to have all the young doctors work in fast-food so they have more hands to contribute to feeding their mouths instead of their society.

  10. Horrible! It seems as if those in charge don’t want to see our health system improve.

    How can the government trash talk their Cuban training knowing that whenever the local health system needs of medical professionals. Cuba is often a source of such personnel. Is it that the Cuban medical training is only good and valuable to our government when it’s a Cuban who has that training? Look at how they treat SKN nationals who would have gone to Cuba for years training in that very system we applaud for medical excellence. The ministry of health should be ashamed, having the junior doctors in such a state that after completing medical school it is necessary to find employment in a fast food restaurant to make ends meet.

    The general public needs to put politics aside and push that this issue be resolved.

    Everyone is quick and happy to support our medical staff as frontline health workers on social media, let’s REALLY support them in this fight for what they deserve. In the end it’s our healthcare system that will benefit.

  11. Caribbean people need to rise against these so call leaders who who really are the people’s servants. Today we have a lot of these folks want to import all kind of foreign help to build the country while our people languish with no skill or future,hence the brain drain.

  12. I don’t know but everything about this article is infuriating. And what’s worse… I, personally, know of some of these things of which it speaks. It’s sad so many years later to see some of the same problems with the health care system remains, with very little effort to change things. I may have opted out of such a system but it is clear to me that things appear even worse now than even back then. One of the main issues that still rings true is that there is no real structure in place to receive newly graduated doctors and incorporate them into the health-care system, and this has been the case for many years now.

    I have no political agenda here. I would only like to highlight the fact that there is much more that could be done. There needs to be a designated person/body in charge of outlining the process and the requirements for assimilating into the health care system there as let’s be honest: it’s no secret that they have graduates coming home every year from Cuba, some from UWI and very soon from Taiwan so there needs to be a plan in place as to how they intend to incorporate them into the system. There’s a body that looks after some these same students while they are abroad studying so why is it once they return, many appear “surprised” at the numbers that are returning.

    There needs to be a plan in place to smoothly transition these doctors back into the system. It could be expansion of the community health. Have more doctors in these health centres or rural hospitals. There’s been a gradual trend away from these practices over the years. There may be a need to re-pivot to such a focus. Additionally, while I do agree the need to afford these new doctors with a 12-month transitioning period into the system, such a period must have some form of stucture where the junior doctors may effectively learn from their senior counterparts. I can only pray for continued guidance, strength and protection of these young up and coming doctors, especially now, as they continue the fight, selflessly on the front lines.

    The only hope I have is that through this COVID-19 pandemic, I hope we can all see how “essential” these workers really are and can agree that they should be treated with dignity, respect and appropriately compensated for all their hard work and years of sacrifice. Lest we forget, especially at a time like this, skills of which they possess would happily be harnessed by other countries and used on their “front-lines”. As the saying goes: ‘One man’s garbage is another man’s Jewels’. Stay safe everyone.

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