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Aug 30, 2001

Docs in O.W., Belize City and Cayo “go slow”

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Long waits to see any doctor at a public hospital are a fact of Belizean life. But it is a big deal when doctors say they won’t show up to treat waiting patients. That was the situation today at the K.H.M.H., Northern Regional Hospital and San Ignacio Hospital. Doctors in the city have joined forces with their colleagues in the north and west in a “go-slow” strike. The standoff has been declared: only emergencies will be treated until demands are met. The medical staffs say they refuse to continue working in deplorable conditions and in some instances, without medicines and equipment. The side effects of this action are bound to affect those who depend on the public health system most. With more on this story, here is Jacqueline Woods.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

A total of fourteen doctors from the Northern Regional Hospital went on a go slow in providing health care to the people of Orange Walk and Corozal Town. The physicians say, for too long they have been working under deplorable conditions, which have affected their ability to provide the best health care to patients.

Dr. Baldomino Bardoza, Physician Specialist

“The improper remuneration of doctors for the services rendered here at the hospital, lack of medical supplies, lack of staffing, human resources.”

The doctors say until conditions improve they will no longer deliver non-essential services to the public, but emergency cases will be addressed. During a press conference at the Orange Walk hospital, the doctors told the media that since May they have made several attempts to meet with the Minister of Health, Jose Coye, to try and reach an amicable solution. But when a meeting was finally scheduled on Tuesday August twenty-eighth with area representative Johnny Briceno and Henry Anderson, the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Health, the group say the response they received was unsatisfactory. That’s when they decided to take action.

Dr. Enrique Guerra, Chief of Staff, Northern Regional

“The meeting basically came to no solution. We thought that the issues were not very seriously acted upon. They were not being analysed in reality seriously, so we decided on the twenty-ninth, which is yesterday, that we would actually go ahead with our go slow. The administration was informed and the chief executive officer was informed. Up to now we have had no communication with the Ministry of Health except an appointment for a meeting tomorrow at 10:30 with the honourable Jose Coye.”

The doctors say the surgical wing has been severely neglected, even though it is one of the most important services at the hospital.

Dr. Jose Salinas, Surgeon, Northern Regional

“Unfortunately, due to lack of resources, the efficiency of our system is falling down, and as we should understand, this will have repercussions for our patients. To mention a few concerns that we have voiced to our ministry, is for example, we are within this unit and for three months we haven’t had proper functioning of the air conditioning system; you all can attest to it. This is a unit that has to be fully air-conditioned and we cannot get proper response from the ministry to put it in place. Our sterilising unit, just a few weeks ago, we had the unfortunate experience of an explosion of this unit. A fire started and it puts into risk the personnel that works within that surgical unit.”

The problems are not only limited to Northern Regional Hospital. Doctors say similar actions are also being taken by medical staff at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, Belmopan Hospital and San Ignacio Hospital. Dr. Alvaro Rosado, Chief Executive Officer at the K.H.M.H., says during a meeting on Wednesday he was informed by a doctor that they would be going on go slow strike on Thursday morning.

Alvaro Rosado, Chief Executive Officer, K.H.M.H.

“I asked if they could inform us as to what they meant by go slow strike, and he clarified that by saying they will be providing emergency services only. I asked if I could be informed as to why this action is being taken, and the response was that they were dissatisfied with conditions. He specifically stated lack of medication that was preventing them from doing their jobs.”

Jacqueline Woods

“Is that true? Is there a lack of medication here at the K.H.M.H.?”

Dr. Alvaro Rosado

“There have been times when we have not had medications that would be considered needed and essential.”

Since this morning, the management team at the K.H.M.H. has been assessing the situation and according to Dr. Rosado only two of their doctors, a paediatrician and internist have decided not to hold clinics.

Dr. Alvaro Rosado

“I can only treat this an individual action now, we have not been given any formal notification of any go slow strike, except for the verbal information I got at the end of that meeting. Nothing has been sent to us, no demands have been made and we have not been asked to sit and discuss the matter.”

Dr. Rosado says what concerns him is what might not be an emergency now, if not treated, might get worse. In the north, the doctors are asking people in Orange Walk and Corozal Town to support their actions and apologise for any inconvenience caused. However, they say if the outcome of their meeting with Minister Coye on Friday is not to their liking, they will remain on go slow. Reporting for News 5, Jacqueline Woods.

Although very little was said about money, officials from the Ministry of Health tell News 5 that one of the requests the medical professionals have made is that their salaries be doubled. On average, a doctor in Belize earns approximately thirty-six thousand dollars, but they hope to negotiate for as much as seventy thousand dollars a year. The Ministry has said there is no way they can afford such amounts at this time.

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