Junior doctors withdraw services, PMH impacted

Junior doctors withdraw services, PMH impacted
Bahamas Doctors Union President Dr. Melisande Bassett (file photo)

A woman in pre-labour at PMH claimed she was turned away

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Industrial action taken by junior doctors yesterday severely impacted services at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH).

Members of the Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU) gathered at the Queen’s Staircase, citing unreasonable terms of outstanding holiday pay owed to doctors for years as the catalyst for the withdrawal of services with the exception of emergency services.

A concern mother of a pregnant Maternity Ward patient, who spoke to Eyewitness News on the condition of anonymity, claimed that her daughter was sent home despite being in pre-labour.

The woman claimed she was advised that the decision was due to a severe shortage of doctors.

“My daughter was sent there this morning as a high-risk pregnancy patient because she is in premature labor,” she claimed.

“She called me just now crying because they are sending her home and she said ‘mommy I don’t know what to do’.”

Labelling the situation as chaotic and worrying, the woman said, “I don’t know what doctors are trying to prove, but someone needs to sound the alarm because this is a serious thing in PMH.”

PMH Medical Chief of Staff Dr. Caroline Burnett Garroway said, “It has taken a few hours, but at this time — for the Gynae and Maternity wards — I can say that we have control in this area. All warded patients are seen. Unfortunately, [there have been a] few discharges.”

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, who was also contacted, said he was still being apprised of the situation, but noted that matters like this come with strike action.

“When these kinds of industrial actions happen, people suffer,” Sands said.

“But, one thing you can hope and pray is that nobody suffers seriously.”

Speaking to reporters at the Queen’s Staircase, BDU President Dr. Melisande Bassett, lamented the Public Hospitals Authority’s handling of holiday pay owed to doctors since 2014.

She said it was proposed that they payment being made in five installments when funds were available, an arrangement the union found “unacceptable”.

The union filed a trade dispute in 2014 seeking to resolve the holiday pay owed to junior doctors.

“They say they’ll pay; they start to pay; [and] then they stop,” said Bassett, who was flanked by scores of junior doctors and later joined by members of several affiliate unions, including Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson and Bahamas Nurses Union President Amancha Williams, among others.

“We’ve had demonstrations. We have threatened strike action in the past [and] we’ve come back to the table.”

On the issue of holiday pay, Sands said the ministry and PHA has always recognized the need for doctors to receive holiday pay, but parties could not agree on, “the methodology to determine how and to whom it should be paid”.

“There was a back and forth between the union and the PHA on whether it should be in four tranches… or five or six, and how to verify that individuals who were making a claim had actually worked,” he said.

Sands said the matter had been addressed, but as the union has made use of its strike certificate, which provides them a specific amount of time to withdraw services by law, the union has an allotted time before the labour minister can intervene.

While acknowledging the negative impact on the healthcare system, Bassett told the media that junior doctors will only assist in medical emergencies at the hospital.

About Ginelle Longley

Ginelle Longley is a broadcast reporter and occasional TV news anchor with Eyewitness News, also serving as the station’s evening radio news anchor for 103.5 The Beat. She has reported on news beats including government, politics, crime, human interest, business and even sports. In 2018, she was nominated for the Bahamas Press Club’s “Student Media Journalism Award”.