The 'Health Bill' debate
Editorial Viewpoint by Rickey Singh
January 14, 2007
IT IS politically correct that the Guyana Government has decided to send to a select committee of Parliament the Health Facilities Licensing Bill for further consideration, given its complexity, before proceeding with the general open debate and have it approved.
This move, consistent with new provisions in the Standing Orders of the National Assembly to enhance parliamentary democracy, should enable informed discussion, hopefully based on research, and removed from the emotional, verbal wrangling that had already surfaced with the introduction of the proposed legislation by Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy.
Rather than spreading misinformation and generating rancour with allegations about `hidden agendas', allusions to invasion of privacy and attempts to terrorise medical professionals, it should be objectively considered to what extent the bill reflects what obtains in a number of other CARCOM states to enable effective and proper regulation in the operations of private and public hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities.
It is my understanding that in preparation for the Health Facilities Licensing Bill, the government gave, among other initiatives, consideration to existing legislation in, for example, Jamaica and The Bahamas.
More pertinent to the current debate is that the draft bill sent to the parliamentary select committee is an extension of an old legislation introduced back in 1972 by the then governing People's National Congress to regulate the functioning of private hospitals.
Opponents of today's Health Facilities Licensing Bill have the responsibility to explain how specific provisions could be manipulated, as they claim, to invade privacy and violate basic rights of medical practitioners or members of the public.
Further, political elements engaged in the private medical profession and among current lawmakers, should be wary about confusing their personal interests with that of the national interest.
Health Minister Ramsammy has been able to point to a good working relationship over the past five years or more between the Ministry of Health and private medical practitioners and their licensed facilities.
Also, in contrast to a policy pursued under a different political dispensation, today's Medical Council, which plays a decisive role in helping to ensure observance of ethical practices, is comprised primarily of representatives of the local medical profession and may include a minority of no more than two non-medical representatives.
If, therefore, all stakeholders cooperate and avoid unnecessary confrontation, relevant adjustments that are necessary could yet be made to the proposed bill for the benefit of the general public who need to be protected in the functioning of both public and private medical facilities.