BY SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Reports out of Basseterre reveal that for several years, public sector health workers in St Kitts and Nevis have been calling for an increase in pay, risk pay, and an improvement in working conditions. All to no avail.
Staff members report that Junior Minister of Health, Wendy Phipps, last year tried to shut down health care workers by threatening them that the Government could bring in workers from Cuba and pay them half of what the locals were being paid.
Then, again last year, health care workers began hearing from their Ministry that an increase would be forthcoming soon. Some thought that might be little more than political baiting, given that elections were looming (and, we are now advised, is due no later than mid-August, 2020).
They were encouraged nevertheless, political baiting or not. They needed a top-up and improved conditions. But nothing happened. At least, not to date. And the election is no more than three months away. So who knows?
Nurses and other staffers have resigned in alarming numbers, morale is low, workers are stretched and distressed. They need relief and inspiration, little or none of which has been forthcoming.
More recently, with the prospect and threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, they stepped up their request for risk pay. Not in any war-like, aggressive way, it is to be noted.
In response, we are informed that the country’s medical Chief of Staff and Chief Surgeon, Dr Cameron Wilkinson, rubbished the risk pay talk, saying that when these people chose to work in health care, they were fully aware of the risks involved.
That didn’t go down well with the health care workers.
Fast forward to the COVID-19 briefing in Basseterre on April 28, when Dr Wilkinson took it up a notch, calling on the health care workers to have compassion, to leave the discussion (about money) for after the COVID-19 had passed, and to observe the country’s motto: Country Above Self. He sought to use himself as an example when he said that his grandson had told him that he (Dr Wilkinson) was his grandson’s hero because every day he was fighting the COVID-19 virus on television.
Many healthcare workers found that example curious, to say the least, asking:
Aren’t we on the front line every day?
Don’t we spend lots more time with the patients and at the hospital than Dr Wilkinson or any other doctor?
Aren’t we the primary caregivers to our patients?
Are we perhaps more exposed and at risk than he is?
Is our family structure, in terms of material means and social support arrangements, as comfortable as his?
When he leaves work he drives himself straight to his home. When they leave work, the bus drops them on the island main road near to their homes, but not in front of their homes, so they have additional things to worry about between the bus and their homes. And until a week or so ago, they were being transported in a smaller bus which was too small to allow them to comply with the government’s regulation for safe social distancing.
And so, Dr Wilkinson comments pissed off the health care workers, big time.
And when he went on to claim that his position was shared by the majority of doctors, and nurses, and by members of the public with whom he had interacted, he pissed-off the health care workers even more, they claiming that their feedback has been opposite to his.
One outraged health care worker declared that most of the doctors, nurses, and other health care workers that he knows are fully committed to combating the COVID-19 virus and to the sacrifices involved, but asked; whether the good doctor is making any sacrifice that other health care workers are not making, in terms of the emoluments from his Government jobs, his alleged income stream from performing surgeries and other procedures at the Government hospital for which,it is said, he charge patients (the person did not say whether the good doctor pays the government for the use of the facility and its Operating Theatre staff, equipment and materials), and his private practice.
Another health care worker claimed that she and her colleagues face the ultimate risk daily, just like the Police, the Defence Force, Fire and Rescue Service, and the Prison Service.All of these other agencies receive risk pay in St Kitts, while nurses and other health workers don’t.
To be continued …