While speaking on his weekly program on local radio, on Wednesday, 20th November, 2013, Richards made some bold claims about the physical conditions of the hospitals, the high cost of the services, the long waits by patients, safety issues, absence of doctors and the difficulties in obtaining required medication. Richards explained that his claims were partly based on personal observation and knowledge and complaints received from various members of the public.
Richards was however challenged by one caller who accused the PAM leader of lying and not speaking from personal knowledge but was instead being guided by what amounted to mischievous “hearsay”.
In any case, Richards’ attack was quite damning as he painted what amounted to be a dismal picture, especially at the main facility, the Joseph N France Hospital, where one of his Deputy Leaders was recently a patient on the Private Ward.
His focus was also on the Mary Charles Hospital in Molineux and the Pogson Medical facility in Sandy Point, where he is the two-term Parliamentary Representative.
At the JNF, he highlighted the failings at the Private Ward, saying that since some years ago, the back exit has been blocked off thereby creating a safety hazard “and if you have a fire or some other emergency at the front, there is no exit at the back,” stated Richards.
He said that this of course is a safety concern and is one of the complaints he has been receiving recently. He said the head of government had taken a decision some years ago to close it (the door) off “because one of his investors from overseas was expected to do something at the back of the ward but at the end of the day that particular project has not materialized, but to date there is no emergency or alternative exit on the ward, because the back has been blocked off.”
Another claim made was that the air condition units and the emergency buzzers used by patients to summon nurses in times of urgent need are not working in some of the rooms on the ward.
Richards reminded that when the hospital was renovated and re-opened, it was described as a state of the art facility but if one goes there today, one would wonder how it could be deserving of such categorization.
The overall physical structure of JNF is falling apart and the PAM leader claimed that in some areas, the paint is peeling off, boards rotting and tiles in some bathrooms falling off the walls. The kitchen area has rodents (rats) and staff there have been appealing for assistance but to no avail, stated Mr. Richards.
Despite these poor conditions the opposition politician charged that the government has imposed service fees that are hurting the poor and unemployed. He said they have to pay $60 to access any sort of care at the hospital. He further argued that patients seeking emergency assistance have had to wait, sometimes for as much as five hours, before receiving attention.
The PAM leader said many of the people who visit the emergency or outpatients sections do that because they simply cannot afford the cost of a private doctor. At the hospital, said Richards, where normally they would have been able to see a doctor free of charge, he now understands that this has come to an end, and even if you need a prescription you cannot get it filled until you would have paid that 60 dollars.
“But many people can’t afford that cost, because times are hard”, said Mr. Richards, who added that he cannot understand why at a time when times are hard in the country the government would want to increase the cost of health care for the ordinary man and woman and he feels that something is unconscionable about that.
This he said is affecting senior citizens, children of school age and even those of working age but who, for some reason, have found it difficult to find employment, so they utilize the outpatient facilities at the hospital.
Richards claimed that he was told of a case of a young man, who died last week after he went to the hospital and was in need of an x-ray, but did not have the required funds and was refused the service. He said he understands that the young man died a couple days after.
The charges of corruption and nepotism also surfaced when Richards indicated that the morgue at the JNF has been non-operational for a number of years and he said it is felt by persons that this is being intentionally done “to put money in the pockets of one of Dr Douglas’ friends. Even though you have Douglas and Martin trained in medicine we still have these particular complaints about the state of health care at these institutions that are expected to deliver medical services to the people.”
He also stated that there are bathrooms without basic necessities such as toilet paper and that the hospital is lacking in a number of resources, but the nurses try to deliver quality health care but they just don’t have the resources to do so. “The government cannot find resources to invest in our health facilities but can find millions of dollars to invest in private projects and so one can only conclude that this government does not care about the ordinary man and woman here in St. Kitts and Nevis and simply does not care about local people.”
It was Richards’ argument that it is not only JNF where the situation is bad because the health care facility in Sandy Point has also come up for criticism by members of the community.
He related to a recent rape case in the Sandy Point area and where the victim was sent to the Pogson facility to do the necessary testing that would be accorded to one after experiencing rape. “She went there and she was told that they don’t have the rape kit, they don’t have the necessary material in order to undertake the testing that was needed and as such she had to journey to the health centre in St. Paul’s to receive the necessary treatment after being raped,” claimed Richards.
Senior citizens in the community have complained too, said Richards. “They said they have to go there on particular days but sometimes when they do, no doctor is there and no explanation is provided, nor indication given as to when the doctor might be available.”
One man, said Richards, reportedly travelled to the facility on multiple days to see the doctor but was unable to on each occasion because the doctor was always absent.
“The doctor is the very same candidate that Labour has proposed for constituency Number Five; the very same candidate who is saying to the people of Sandy Point that he cares about them. But the senior citizens are complaining that when they go to the medical facility in Sandy Point where he is being paid by tax payers in this country to deliver a particular service, they are complaining that quite often they go there and he is not there, ” argued Richards.
In Molineux, the main complaints raised about that institution related to the lack of an ambulance, no doctors stationed at the facility, broken fences and lack of security.
Richards and his PAM party are currently stepping up their government attacks as the next election draws near. PAM along with CCM (in Nevis) and the newly formed PLP have forged an alliance to contest the next poll.