GPSU, private medical practitioners denounce Health Facilities Bill
…constitutionality will be determined in Parliament - Ramsammy

Kaieteur News
January 27, 2007

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President of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), Patrick Yarde, yesterday, strongly condemned the move by Parliament in the tabling of the Health Facilities Licensing Bill, reiterating the fact that the GPSU represents more than 90 per cent of health workers.

Yarde made these observations during a press conference at the Union 's Regent Street headquarters, where he stated that the Bill is abounding with draconian procedures which bestow unrestrained powers to the Minister of Health.

He said that this bestowal is inconsistent with any functioning democracy.

He added that the GPSU is disturbed that the Bill was tabled, devoid of consultation with the affected stakeholders - a direct contravention of the constitution, which mandates ‘inclusionary democracy' with the relevant stakeholders.

Mr. Yarde noted that cautious analysis of the Bill uncovered that it will allow for an incursion of privacy by the Minister or his agents into the practice.

In the name of ministerial examination, the empowerment granted to the Minister will infringe on doctor/patient confidentiality.

He continued that the Bill violates the constitutional rights of healthcare professionals as it is in direct conflict with their right to property, which is assured in the Constitution of Guyana.

Yarde lamented that in the event that the Minister arbitrarily uses the licensing power, it would result in an inability to practice by healthcare professionals when they are not employed by the Public institution and license is not granted to operate privately in their communities.

He pointed out that this in itself is another contradiction of the Constitution, which guarantees healthcare professional the right to work.

Also on the list of concerns for the GPSU is that the powers conferred to the Minister may inhibit humanitarian and voluntary efforts by the civic organisations outside of the framework of the public health facilities.

Yarde said that there are entities that facilitate access to healthcare to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and individuals, who are unable to pay for this needed service.

“Healthcare is all-embracing, and this autocratic and irresponsible approach to dealing with this matter is of grave concern,” Yarde stated.

The GPSU President compared the Health Bill with the Value-Added Tax (VAT) Bill which, he said, was crafted by people without vision, and the present amendments to the latter substantiate that the relevant authorities are incapable of producing legislation which was well thought out, and this is the case in the present scenario.

Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, in an interview with this newspaper said that the constitutionality of the Bill will be determined in Parliament.

“That is why we have a Parliament…Further, none of the accusations by the GPSU are true.”

He added that the objective of the Bill is to improve the quality and establish minimum standards to the health system.

The Minister also posited that the Bill will have no adverse effects on the medical practitioners. He explained that the formulation of Bills is based on working models of developed and developing countries.

Responding to the Minister's comparison of the present Health Bill with that of 1972, Yarde said, “If the Minister wants to be so backward as to look at something that happened thirty-four years ago, it is unfortunate that we have such a person as the Minister of Health...It is embarrassing that the Minister of Health is justifying what he is doing now by something that happened over 30 years ago.”

Yarde pointed out that 34 years ago the entire medical scenario was completely different from present-day.

Regarding the measures that the GPSU will take to address the issue, Yarde indicated that the Union is capable of dealing with matters that have far-reaching implications.

He noted that the first move will be to move to the courts, and in the event that that fails, civil disobedience will have to be initiated.

The GPSU President expressed concern that more national institutions and responsible persons are not recognising their civic responsibility to be involved in addressing this critical issue.

He continued that since this matter is of national interest, the GPSU is looking for a collective approach and not just “a GPSU approach”.

Director of the University of Guyana 's School of Medicine , Dr. Carl ‘Max' Hanoman, stated that if health care in Guyana is only centered on the public framework, then it will be detrimental for the health care system in the country.

He noted that the public institution does not have the facilities; and at present, the limited facilities available are crowded.

The Bill, it is believed, will significantly affect practitioners in the private sector.

Dr Hanoman noted that, in Guyana , there is a shortage of specialists.

He opined that the Bill will prevent adequate health service in Guyana , since nobody with specialised training will want to come to Guyana and operate under such restrictions.

He added that it is not wise to implement a health system from North America into Guyana , given its level of sophistication.

Private practitioners in Guyana , he said, cater to the section of society that does not have the time to wait in long lines.

He further stated that a Health Facilities Bill that addresses the issue of unqualified persons fleecing the public would be a good thing. He continued that the negligence is to group all health practitioners.

He said that if the intention of the Bill is to regularise legitimate businesses, then the government should refrain from drawing in the registered professionals.

He pointed out that the Medical Council registers all qualified practitioners, hence identifying the legitimate personnel would not have been a problem.

Yarde, meanwhile, noted that the government is trying to place an inordinate degree of control and restriction on the health care system, and adequate investment is not made. He stated that the public institutions are virtually without adequate drugs, and noted that persons are given prescriptions while being told to find the drugs alternatively.

He said, “Instead of investing in Buddy's and elsewhere, invest in the health system.”

He continued that investment should be made to retain health professionals and develop human resources among others.