The island’s main general hospital is facing an unprecedented dilemma that could result in stroke victims being turned away.
The alarm was raised at the weekend by Associate Consultant in charge of the Resistant Hypertension Clinic at the state-owned Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) Dr Kenneth Connell during a policy intervention forum organised by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados (HSFB), at Accra Beach Hotel Resort in Christ Church.
Describing the situation as phenomenal, Dr Connell warned that the never-before-seen rate at which stroke victims were turning up at the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) daily, could soon result in the hospital having nowhere to put them.
“We are talking about all these strokes presenting to the Emergency Room (ER) today, in 2020. But on the trajectory, these patients wouldn’t even be making it inside the ER because we would physically have no space to accommodate them,” declared Dr Connell, who is also President of the HSFB.
Declaring that NCDs are killing Barbadians early, the senior medical official also disclosed that these illnesses were now responsible for eight out of every ten deaths in a country where 31 per cent of children are considered obese or overweight.
To press home his point, the top medical official recalled the days when heart attacks were one or two and weeks apart. These now, he pointed out, had now become commonplace.
“The fact that some junior doctors…would never know the day when there were five admissions to internal medicine because there was one heart attack. And if you were a student and you saw a heart attack, it’s a big deal because you are not going to see another one for a couple of weeks. Now, you are…desensitized [at] seeing a heart attack,” said the senior medical professional, who is also Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the UWI, Cave Hill Campus.
He added: “I now ask on mornings…how many MIs (myocardial infarction) were admitted. And then my next question is ‘how many survived the A&E experience,’ because some of them will die on presentation.”
Dr Connell contended that the statistics on strokes and other non communicable diseases (NCDs) are available and accessible to the Government and that it was now up to the policy-makers to accept or ignore them.
The youthfulness of the majority of stroke victims and other non-communicable disease patients presenting to the ER, is also of particular worry to the medical official.
“There are over 21 patients in the emergency room waiting to be placed on a ward, and most of them are under the age of 50. And I must tell you, that of the 16 that are admitted under the University [of the West Indies] Services, some ten of them are strokes; and there are young strokes,” he revealed.
“This is something that we are not accustomed to seeing…the fact that there is a backlog of patients in the emergency room has nothing really to do with the health system. It has to do with what the health system is now receiving. We are just receiving more NCDs. They are at our doorsteps. We can colour it however we want, but this is our reality,” he declared.
Dr Connell recalled that his registrar only last week raised concerns about how the hospital would be able to find wards for the ongoing influx of stroke victims and other NCD patients.
He said his reply was: “More importantly, how are we going to stop them from coming in. How are we going to stop this process, because it is only going to get worse.”
He was quick to point out that these diseases are being driven by obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and mental health issues.
Dr Connell released other data to show that one in every five individuals in Barbados has diabetes and that the annual economic cost has skyrocketed to in excess of $209 million.
He also produced figures from the Barbados National Registry for 2016 which reported 15 strokes per week and nine heart attacks per week.
The associate consultant singled out the consumption of sugar, sweetened beverages and unhealthy foods as a major worry to health officials.
For example, Dr Connell cited a recent Barbados Student Population survey which revealed that 18.5 per cent of students ate fast foods three to four times a week, while 73.3 per cent reported drinking one or more soft drink a day.
That data also showed that 15 per cent ate no vegetables or fruit in the past month.
“Unhealthy diets, which is the main [driver] for obesity is not legislated against,” the top medical official noted, adding that tobacco use and the harmful use of alcohol are already regulated by law.
He said air pollution and physical inactivity were also risk factors with regards to NCDs