(BarbadosToday)In light of an increase in environmental problems at the island’s primary healthcare institutions, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Wayne Walrond has called on the Government to invest in proper maintenance of these facilities.
However, Chief Medical Officer Dr The Most Honourable Kenneth George has told Barbados TODAY there is no quick fix to these issues, especially given the administration’s limited financial resources.
On Monday, workers at the David Thompson Health and Social Services Complex in St John complained about poor working conditions, threatening to walk off the job if something was not done to rectify the issues that include an out-of-service air conditioning system, and possible build-up of mould.
However, talks between representatives of the Ministry of Health and NUPW averted strike action.
Emerging from the “cordial” meeting just after noon, Walrond told Barbados TODAY he was satisfied that some progress would be made to address the cooling system and other concerns.
He said the Ministry of Health had committed to getting a split air conditioning system in place over the course of the next three weeks.
The NUPW official said management had also given the assurance that they would “put the logistics in place so that staff can still continue to function while having the situation addressed”.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and do some visits to ensure that the issues are being addressed in a satisfactory and definitive manner,” he said.
Walrond said the lack of a working air conditioning system had become untenable for patients and staff, particularly given the humid conditions this time of year.
“There are some other issues, including the issue of termite infestation. This building was one that stopped and started for several years . . . so that is another issue that the ministry will have to assess and address,” said the senior official of the country’s largest public sector trade union.
The David Thompson Health and Social Services Complex is the third healthcare facility in as many weeks where workers complained about environmental issues.
On August 3, nurses at the Maurice Byer Polyclinic in St Peter walked off the job as they complained about a damp and mould-infested environment that they said was causing frequent illness.
A week later, nurses and other staff at the St Philip Polyclinic also protested what they said were hazardous working conditions.
In light of these concerns and complaints about other Government offices, Walrond said the Government should consider putting more resources towards a structured maintenance programme.
“The proactive works out to be more economical than the reactive. When there is a total breakdown, you are looking at dislocation of staff, disruption of work and so forth. So I think the Government needs to look at a proper maintenance programme . . . . Put it in the budget at least, . . . to ensure you are not reacting to breakdowns,” he recommended.
Suggesting that the Government also carry out regular maintenance on older coral stone buildings to deal with moisture buildup, Walrond added: “We believe also the question is, ‘are the newer buildings being designed to suit the tropics or the purpose of housing government offices?’. Maybe there needs to be a discussion about the engineering of the buildings and if they are really being designed fit for purpose and the tropical needs. There needs to be a wide discussion about the whole design of buildings that are used to house government offices,” he said.
Dr George told Barbados TODAY while he agreed there needed to be “a lot of investment in our old primary healthcare plants”, there was no quick fix.
However, he gave the assurance that authorities would be taking corrective measures “bit by bit and brick by brick”.
“The challenge with our primary healthcare plant is that many of the buildings are old,” the CMO said.
“There has always been an issue of resources with respect to primary healthcare. We are committed to sorting out, firstly, St Philip Polyclinic. The union has been partnering with us and although they are looking out for their staff, I think they have a good understanding of the constraints that we have. So we have given the commitment that we will have this matter at St John addressed,” he added.