The Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) has accumulated over $100 million in operational expenses, according to Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands, who made the shocking revelation during his mid-year budget presentation in the House of Assembly Monday.
Dr. Sands said the public healthcare system continues to put a brutal beating on the public purse, which is already struggling with limited financial resources. It is a dilemma Dr. Sands blames on the former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration.
“We came into office with the side opposite (PLP) having promised the world in terms of repairs and refurbishment of healthcare facilities throughout the archipelago. We are unable to fund the proposed infrastructural improvements as there was no money. Hence, we have had to put many of them on hold,” Dr. Sands said.
He said when the FNM took office in May 2017, it met $16 million in unpaid bills for current healthcare expenditure items. The government, he said, also inherited the burden of $88.5 million worth of proposed commitments.
The health minister said a number of those commitments include questionable construction contracts which are currently under review.
“To address the significant inherited funding challenges for the fiscal year 2017 – 2018, these capital projects are being reviewed, reprioritized and re-scoped to ensure that the public gets the best use of limited financial resources,” he said.
He continued, “The government has identified $10 million in funding to salvage any of the projects which may still be viable.”
PHA receives 71 per cent of the overall health budget and since June 2017, the authority has accumulated $126.8 million in overruns – a figure that exceeded budget allocations by $19.8 million.
Dr. Sands indicated that PHA’s overspending is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, according to Dr. Sands, “each year, in recent memory, the PHA’s operating expenditure has averaged $27.3 million over the budget allocation. Even though the authority continues to strengthen measures to enhance cost efficiencies, reduce wastage and embrace all opportunities to enhance revenue collection, these efforts will best be achieved by enhancing existing policies and developing new policies.”
While the government grapples with eliminating these mounting figures, it celebrates the small steps it has made toward introducing a number of infrastructural upgrades.
PHA is responsible for the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, the Rand Memorial Hospital on Grand Bahama and all 20-odd clinics located throughout The Bahamas.
Dr. Sands shared that successive governments have been faced with the challenge of addressing aged health facilities. PMH, one of the older facilities in the lot, was constructed in 1952, while a number of other healthcare facilities date back to the 1980’s.
While current outstanding projected infrastructure costs for improvement on existing community clinics approximates some $46.5 million, Dr. Sands said, the government celebrates the progress it continues to make toward improving infrastructural challenges on step at a time.
“I am pleased to report that we managed to complete the West End Community Clinic, which was opened late last year,” he shared.
“At the Rand Memorial Hospital, funds have been identified to execute the upgrading and expansion of much needed clinical space. This will be achieved following by relocation of the kitchen and cafeteria.”
The Cory Newbold Ward at PMH, he said, will be reopened in April, following a complete renovation of the 40-bed ward. It is expected to reduce the waiting time for admissions and theatre services.
Plans are also said to be underway for the redevelopment of the entire East Block of PMH with the Eye Ward, Maternity Ward, Children’s Ward and Male Surgical Ward to get upgrades.
Accident and Emergency is also on the way to renovation, the health minister said.
“The renovation and upgrade at A&E is targeted with emphasis on how we decant or move ongoing services in order to minimize disruption to essential services. It is anticipated that the phased renovation will span 12-14 months,” he said.
The minister is expected to release the associated costs for these renovations during his contribution to the budget for the upcoming fiscal period.