Position paper on health bill for select committee
Stabroek News
January 21, 2007

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Members of the medical fraternity are preparing to send a position paper on the controversial Health Licensing Facilities Bill of 2006 to the select committee to which the bill was sent last week.

Some of the doctors who have voiced concerns about the bill said they were never consulted on it and had only become aware of its existence a few weeks ago.

The bill was scheduled for a second reading in the National Assembly last week but instead was referred to a committee in the wake of concerns by the medical community. High on the list of concerns is the extensive discretionary powers the bill gives the Minister of Health.

Dr Surendra Persaud who sits on a committee of concerned doctors recently told Stabroek News that the bill vests the regulation in the hands of a sole individual who is a political appointee. This, he said, is inappropriate.

He points to section 14 (1) of the bill which states:

"Where the minister is of the opinion that a health facility should continue to operate after the expiry, surrender, suspension or revocation of the licence, after the death of the licensee or after the licensee ceases to operate the facility, the minister by a written order may take control of and operate the facility for a period not exceeding one year."

According to him, the bill is not similar to the previous bill since this new one extends the power of the minister. Persaud said he finds it sad that the bill aims to give the minister much more power than the one in 1972 under Burnham.

"The medical community has met and we are relieved that the bill has been sent to a select committee. We will make our concerns known to this committee since numerous attempts to contact the minister on the issue have failed," Persaud said.

He said they have been persistent in trying to reach Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy but without success.

They are now moving ahead by putting their concerns in writing and forwarding them to the select committee.

Persaud said the missive will take the form of a position paper. He said they do not intend to list a host of things that are wrong with the bill but rather outline very broadly what they find troubling.

Currently, members of the medical community are reviewing the bill and making suggestions to the committee of concerned doctors. An amalgamation of those suggestions is what will be forwarded to the select committee.

He referred to section 19 of the bill which says that an inspector who is appointed by the minister may, at any reasonable time, without warrant, enter any premises of a health facility to make an inspection and upon an inspection has the right to free access to all books of accounts, documents, correspondence and records including payroll, employment, patient and drug records and any other records that are relevant for the purpose of the inspections.

Persaud said access to patient records is a direct violation of one of the basic principles of patient confidentiality, yet it is stated in the bill that an inspector appointed by the minister could do this once the bill is passed.

Another provision in the bill seems to indicate that the decision taken by the minister is final, Persaud said. According to him, this does not allow for an approach to the courts.

The Health Facilities Licensing Bill of 2006 was tabled in the National Assembly on December 21, last year, and it is to apply to health facilities as well as health services, places or persons.

According to the bill, no health facility would be operated unless it is licensed by the Minister of Health. As a result, no person would be able to use the term "hospital", "health clinic", "health centre" or "health post" in the title of a place unless licensed under the law.

Ramsammy has since issued a statement stating that the bill is not seeking to regulate practices within the offices of private doctors. He emphasised that the bill is intended to strengthen regulation of public and private hospitals, laboratories, dialysis centres, imaging centres (MRI and CT scans), surgical clinics and cancer treatment centres that provide radiotherapy.

But Persaud said the language in the bill is very clear. He said it the bill defines a health facility as a place in which one or more members of the public receive health services or treatment and includes, but is not limited to, a hospital, a health centre, a health post, a training institution for health professionals, a laboratory, a diagnostic or therapeutic clinic or nursing home, a medical or surgical clinic.

When members of the medical fraternity first met to discuss the bill they had rejected it and called for meaningful consultations be-fore any proposed legislation is made in the future.