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Health Minister meets with nurses; says “coalition” is a one-man show

HighlightsHealth Minister meets with nurses; says “coalition” is a one-man show

Photo: Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 17, 2022

Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Kevin Bernard and CEO in the Health Ministry, Dr. Julio Sabido, met with the Nurses Association of Belize (NAB) yesterday to discuss the ongoing challenges facing the nurses, particularly shortages of medical supplies in healthcare facilities across the country. The NAB, according to Minister Bernard, said at that meeting that their primary concern remains the shortages of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. Last Friday, a joint release issued under the letterheads of three medical associations gave the government an ultimatum—setting a date by which a meeting had to be held with members of a coalition of medical professionals in order to address seven key problem areas within the healthcare system. According to Minister Bernard, his ministry attempted to hold a meeting with the group on Monday, but it was put off seemingly unilaterally by Andrew Baird, president of the Karl Heuser Memorial Hospital Authority Workers Union (KHMHAWU).

In a Zoom press briefing yesterday, Hon. Bernard said, “We were ready, we were prepared. I got a text from Mr. Baird late Sunday night stating that they would defer this meeting, but let me also point out too that I today understood from the Nursing Association that they were all on their way to this meeting just to be told that the meeting is deferred. The decision was taken obviously, and I assume, by Mr. Baird himself. “

According to Hon. Bernard, an e-mail was sent by Baird to Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño and to Minister Bernard, and that e-mail laid out the list of demands that were outlined in the letter that had been sent by the coalition. Hon. Bernard, noted, however, that the Nurses Association, in contrast, made it clear that their primary area of concern continues to be the medical supply shortages.

“The detailed meeting today had nothing to do with a letter that was signed by one – or I don’t know if it was even signed, because I have not received an official hardcopy letter – that was posted on social media with the three letterheads of the different groups that forms the coalition. It is obvious that one individual has been acting unilaterally on his own; they made that absolutely clear, that that is not the purview of the Nurses Association of Belize,” Minister Bernard said.

The meeting held yesterday between Hon. Bernard and the nurses did not focus on the list of demands that had been presented in the purported release from the three groups last week but was centered only on the issue of shortages, and according to Minister Bernard, the session was very fruitful.

“What they did was that we brought the concerns from the various regions, including K.H.M.H.A. We were able to clarify in many cases, in many instances, some of the lists that they brought in terms of what they deemed were medications that were short. We also realized during the discussions that there is a gap in communication within the regions, between the pharmacy unit and the nurses, in terms of them being properly informed of what is available at the pharmacy or what is not available in the country. So we were able to, at the same time, we were able to identify those products or those items that are still pending delivery in the country,” Hon. Bernard said.

A faulty, ill-timed tendering process has been cited as the primary reason for delays in importation, and shortages, of medical supplies in the country. The Ministry has thus decided to put in place a new timeline in order to prevent delays in medical supply acquisition by next year.

“We want to ensure that with the new timeline that we have put for ourselves, internally, at the ministry, that we want to ensure that we have received all our supplies in the country so that when we go through the new tender cycle which we are working on right now so that we could put together within the budget cycle a proper, detailed listing of pharmaceutical and medical supplies that will be required for us in the next fiscal year,” Hon. Bernard said.

Minister Bernard also noted that tenders for medication that is currently needed were signed back in late August, but he explained that recent storms have played at least some role in the delay.

“We had some delays in terms of shipping delays. Hurricane Lisa and the previous hurricane that hit Florida also created further delays for supplies. Now a lot of these things, I am not saying this to find excuses, but I am saying that while those issues caused delays, there were suppliers in the country who flew in many urgent medications in order for us to be able to ship across the country, including those at KHMH,” he said.

The Health Ministry and the Nurses Association of Belize are to meet again in January on the matter, and Hon. Bernard said that his ministry has also reached out to the Belize Medical and Dental Association, and they are open to conversations with all stakeholders.

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