Just days after the Public Hospitals Authority advised over 30 interns and junior doctors that their internship had ended and they would have to apply for positions, the Prime Minister said in the House of Assembly, last week, “This past Sunday, I was pleased to witness the signing of the Hippocratic Oath by new physicians here at home, who will serve our country for many years to come.”
One week ago, 34 students successfully completed their studies in medicine from the University of the West Indies School of Clinical Medicine and Research Bahamas. No doubt, most of these graduates will intern at Princess Margaret Hospital; the same institution that recently changed its practices of automatically offering successful interns placement within PHA.
During the graduation ceremony, Governor General Cornelius A Smith stated that the graduates are being entrusted with the future of healthcare delivery in The Bahamas.
The question is what guarantees that the fate of these 34 excited graduates would be any different than their 30 predecessors who were categorized as “unsung heroes” by the Bahamas Doctors Union.
The challenge with this new policy implemented by PHA is that the future of interns is left up in the air. Interns are not made aware as to how many available positions there would be until the end of their internship and are, therefore, not able to begin seeking employment outside of that organization. This is the predicament that the 30 successful interns found themselves in recently and no doubt the new 34 will find themselves in next year.
This practice is unfair to junior doctors. First of all, the positions being offered are on a contractual basis (one year contracts). There is no security of tenure. No pension and no guarantee of contract renewal. Their future with PHA will be in constant limbo which makes it extremely difficult to build a life around this uncertainty. What financial institution do you know that would give a junior doctor with a one-year contract a loan to purchase a vehicle? How do they now aspire to homeownership under these conditions?
The issue that must be addressed by the Prime Minister is how is he proposing that these physicians serve our country for many years to come. Is he going to guarantee their employment? And if so, why was the same opportunity not afforded to the 30 who would have had a reasonable expectation to be employed by the PHA especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic?
Addressing Doctors Hospital’s recent staff reduction, John Pinder, Director of Labour stated he would “be more than surprised” if employees included in this reduction were healthcare professionals as The Bahamas is already suffering from a shortage of trained medical personnel.
Perhaps the Labour Director should advise the government of this shortage. He should also seek to advise them that the unemployment rate is projected to reach 40%. Many of these unemployed persons would also have lost their health insurance coverage and the financial means to seek private medical attention. This would place a greater strain on public hospitals and clinics. Therefore, the public healthcare system would require additional trained professionals.
So, Prime Minister, I call on you to do the honorable thing and ensure that the 30 healthcare workers with whom the PHA recently severed ties be given an opportunity, as you indicated, to serve our country for many years to come. If not, they would be given that opportunity by some other country.