Health officials warned against private practice on government time
Stabroek News
May 15, 2007

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Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy is calling on all public health officials, who live in government housing not to hold private clinics there and not to use their on-job time to operate at private health facilities.

The minister made this call at a press conference yesterday at ministry, when he highlighted the growing trend of public health officials who operate private practices during their working hours in the public health sector.

"You can't be at two places at the same timeā€¦ different obligations must be done at different times," Dr Ramsammy said.

He said almost all of the doctors in the public health system also have private practices and some managed to balance both well. He encouraged all public health professionals to find such a balance.

He lamented that the ministry received many complaints that doctors were absent from the public institutions they are contracted to be at, but can be found at private health institutions. The minister said the government intended to regulate employment practices in all the public sector institutions and specifically in the health sector. He said conditions and regulations to this end, will be enshrined in the Ministry of Health Act.

However, service providers operating in public owned health facilities must provide that service free, except where there is a public/private partnership that mandates a fee.

For example, public/private partnership arrangements like the cardiac diagnostic and surgical programmes, low vision programme, radiation therapy, hip and joint replacement surgery at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) carry a fee; along with approved private rooms in certain public hospitals. But the minister said there have been complaints of persons being charged for eye surgeries in public health institutions, where the service is free.

And as long a public health officials are living in homes provided for by the government or rented by the government, a private practice where a fee is charged cannot be held there, the minister said. However, the ministry is not against the health professionals providing a free service at the government provided residence. The minister said holding a private clinic at government-provided housing "is an illegal practice."

Dr Ramsammy said persons found operating private clinics at government housing will have to find their own housing and may find themselves in jeopardy of losing their job, as another mechanism to ensure compliance.

"At the outset, the Ministry of Health has no objection to public sector health professionals engaged in private practice outside of working hours. We believe that how health professionals utilize their private time cannot be a matter to be prescribed by the Ministry of Health," the minister said in a statement issued at the press conference.

"However, there are too many healthcare professionals who have neglected their public sector duties to pursue their private practice. The Ministry of Health cannot accept this practice and would now pursue strict regulation of this mix.

"We warn health care professionals that the Ministry of Health would make no exception to the rule -- government-provided residences cannot be utilized for the provision of private services. Any service provided at the government-owned homes or government-provided homes is a part of the public service and should not attract charges."