Vincentians affected by new QEH measures
February 17, 2012
Vincentians affected by new QEH measures

by Dayle DaSilva

Vincentians are already being negatively affected by the recent decision of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Barbados to demand payment upfront from overseas patients.{{more}}

This was disclosed by one prominent member of the local medical fraternity as she discussed with SEARCHLIGHT the effect this decision is having on local patients.

“All in all, it is prohibitive,” Dr Bharati Datta, consultant pediatrician told SEARCHLIGHT.

“The point is that if you don’t have the finances, do not even go to them,” she said.

The decision, according to Datta, rules out or makes it difficult for any urgent referrals to be made.

The new payment arrangement was communicated to health officials here and forms part of a new set of referral guidelines for the transfer of overseas patients to the QEH.

“What we generally used to do in the past is that I would call a colleague in Barbados and the response was that the patient could be sent,” Datta said.

She contended that there had been instances where patients were admitted directly into wards, and particularly if they required acute care, they would be transported from the airport and taken to the hospital.

Patients were usually required to make a down payment, with a set time to pay off the balance, she said.

Typical referrals included cardiology, neurology, pediatric infectious diseases, persons seeking second opinions, and before there was a pediatric surgeon at the MCMH, surgical referrals were also made.

“So we had that privilege and we knew the patient was safe. Now I can’t do that anymore. I can’t put anybody on that flight unless I get an okay or the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital gets an okay from the CEO (Chief Executive Officer at the QEH),” the physician told SEARCHLIGHT.

And already, the decision has been having a negative impact.

According to Datta, she has dealt with at least three cases of pediatric leukemia within the last 6 to 8 months, and the first patient was told that they needed to come up with BDS$50,000 (US $25,000) up front.

There was another case, Datta explained, involving a pregnant woman who was in danger of giving birth prematurely.

She has now been forced to remain here, and risk that her baby is not born too prematurely, after she was told that she would have had to come up with BDS$100,000.

Datta explained that the health officials here would have preferred to refer the woman to the QEH in her pregnant state, because the resources at the intensive care services unit there are superior to those at MCMH.

“So we thought if the premature baby is born in Barbados, it stands a better chance. As it stands, the cost given to us was over $100,000, and these are patients who may have been able to pay, but do it while stretching their dollar,” Datta said.

“To cough up $100,000 overnight for anybody is difficult,” she further contended.

The medical practitioner was of the opinion that the prices being quoted were for some people too high, and would be difficult for them to come up with, in a short space of time.

She said that local medical practitioners were now finding it difficult, saying that she had discussions with other doctors, and they all shared the same view.

“If there is an indigent patient, he can’t go to Trinidad or Barbados. Forget about the treatment. He can’t even afford the airline ticket, so what are you going to do?” she questioned.

Datta was of the view, however, that it was time for the us to empower our local medical resources, saying that if a little child came forward without connections that would allow for him or her to seek medical attention overseas, the only other alternative was to do the best for that child here.

Having referrals made to facilities in neighbouring territories such as Trinidad and Tobago was also an option, although prices were also high, Datta said.

“But we have to empower ourselves,” she contended.

“That means St Vincent has to come to a stage where we can look after our own, and that is going to help in the long run.”

“It will not be easy. We have the expertise, and if not, we will get the expertise, but it will be to our benefit, because in the long run, it will not get better or easier. In the next 5 or 10 years, they may add some more red tape,” Datta explained.

“So in order to make it easier, we need to empower ourselves – that’s the only answer,” she said.