NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Bahamas Doctor’s Union president Dr Melisande Bassett warned physicians have been threatened with non-contract renewal if they don’t volunteer to participate in the COVID-19 response.
Bassett said she has asked the Minister of Health to have a meeting with the entire medical fraternity to discuss concerns. detailed in a letter to members dated April 11.
“We all understand that this is a national response, and admonish you to lend your support,” the letter read.
“If we delay in mounting a strong response to this dilemma, the health and economic fallout will be devastating. But, whatever role you play, the BDU wants to ensure that we, the physicians, are not the greatest number of casualties.”
The union president said she presented a list of volunteers to the Department of Medicine who are: willing to have direct contact with COVID-19 patients; those with premorbid conditions that put them at high risk and have indicated that they will assist via telephone contact in history taking or patient review; and those that are willing to man the phone lines for non-COVID-19 related issues.
Bassett underscored the union has yet to receive any official information on proposed accommodations for healthcare workers who do not want to risk exposure of their loved ones.
She noted there has also not been any official documentation on compensation and benefits for infected doctors.
“We know that this is an impediment to many wishing to volunteer,” Bassett’s letter read.
“Finally, while there has been a verbal promise for compensation and insurance benefits if a doctor or their family members become infected, there has not been any official documentation on this issue; despite requests for the same. Given our experience in the past with receiving compensation, we can understand widespread reservation.
She continued: “If the aim is to have doctors volunteer for the COVID-19 response, the BDU suggests that a clear plan be penned with specific categories for work, as suggested above, those with direct contact with patients, those who can serve in other capacities, hours expected to be engaged, protocols for various COVID-19 centers, level of involvement needed by volunteers, and any other pertinent information.”
Bassett noted many junior doctors did not have the proper training to use personal protective equipment (PPE) or proper mask fitting, and advised those without training to avoid direct contact with COVID-19 cases or suspect cases.
“Where physicians have not had training in PPE donning and doffing, the BDU advises that you not participate in any direct contact with COVID-19 patients or suspect cases,” the letter read.
“Further, the BDU advises its members to wear masks (N-95 masks, or surgical masks) at all times. We are in the process of procuring masks for all junior staff to be issued weekly and we are asking that cloth masks be worn over the N95 mask and the N95 be reused for 2 days and the cloth mask/surgical mask washed or changed daily.
“Where there has been direct contact with a positive case masks should be discarded. Please see the CDC and other sites on reuse, extended use and decontamination of masks,” the letter added.
Yesterday, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said: “At PMH, we are encouraged by the increasing pool of volunteers that are joining the doctors and nurses that have remained on the frontline from the inception.”