Full Text of Speech Below
Access to first-class healthcare is a fundamental right deserving of all Citizens and Residents of Montserrat. There is no question, nor debate to be had about this. At this present juncture, above and beyond all else, Healthcare should be seen as the top priority for all the people of Montserrat.
Access to first class health care is achieved through adequately equipped healthcare facilities with professionally trained healthcare workers. Additionally, to attract and retain trained healthcare workers, there are a number of burning issues which the Government of Montserrat must address urgently.
Enough of the delay and skirting around the issues. Urgent action is needed to resolve the Healthcare crisis on Montserrat.
Our island lost 15 to 20 vital nursing staff between 2019 and 2022. These nurses decided to leave our shores as they were dissatisfied with the unchanging daunting conditions that the present nurses who chose to remain, protested about just a few weeks ago.
As I understand it, after a meeting with Government Officials, the Nurses were asked to wait a further three long months for Government to address a number of the outstanding issues that have been burdening our nursing staff and impacting their morale.
Some of these issues yet to be addressed includes:
1) Session overtime payments, which after taxes the Nurses receive $105 for a session lasting eight hours. Nurses are usually asked to do these sessions on their off days or nights as the case may be.
2) Night duty allowances, uniform allowance and anomalies in salaries - leaving Nurses to take home salaries at the bottom or very close to the bottom of the salary scale. These are just some of the issues to be addressed by the government.
To put some of this into further perspective; if a minimum wage of $12 per hour is approved by the government, now or in the future, with no adequate adjustments to Nurses salaries, then some of our Nurses salaries will be below that minimum wage. This clearly is an unsatisfying situation that no Nurse would be happy with, and by extension no worker would ever be happy earning a salary that is below minimum wage.
All workers within Government within salary scales R51 to R43 are earning salaries below a minimum wage of $12 per hour should that rate be approved by government. This is beyond inhumane.
In other words, if you are currently earning a monthly salary of $2080 or less, then if the minimum wage is set at $12 an hour, you will be earning below minimum wage. Approximately 162 government workers will be affected and that includes some of our Nurses and other healthcare workers.
Should the Government seek to resolve this issue before implementing a $12 an hour minimum wage, the government will need to budget EC$569,495 or EC$743,095 if the minimum wage is set to $12.50.
In spite of their plight, our Nurses and other Healthcare workers still committed their services to our people, with much needed help from the Cuban contingent, until their recent untimely departure.
Montserrat’s present compliment of approximately 25 nurses, including hospital and district nurses, represents a meagre compliment of Nurses here to service our Healthcare delivery needs.
As of recently, 7 of these 25 Nurses, along with 1 Geriatric Aid staff, from the already skeleton staffing arrangement, had to isolate due to COVID-19 related illness, whilst there are another 4 Nurses on their annual leave. This leaves less than 20 Nurses available for duty presently!
With this present scenario, there is at times no nurse at Casualty during night shifts! Who covers Casualty in a situation like this? No one. This is beyond unacceptable and our Government does little to address these critical healthcare delivery issues.
The male and female ward would normally be staffed with a Registered Nurse, alongside a Nursing Assistant. However, the unavailability of Nurses is such that the wards have only one Nurse and a Geriatric Aid, borrowed from the elderly homes. This again is not the way any modern healthcare service should be run. Why is our government delaying in fixing the mess within our Healthcare system?
The people of Montserrat cannot feel comfortable knowing that the Hospital is being manned by Geriatric Aides who cannot perform the roles of a Registered Nurse or a Nursing Assistant.
This embarrassing situation reflects poorly on our healthcare services on Montserrat.
I call on the Government of Montserrat to act swiftly to resolve these issues and improve the quality of Healthcare delivery on Montserrat. This includes ensuring the retention of our present Healthcare Workers, and also to recruit the additional Healthcare staff required to relieve our present healthcare staff who are overworked and grossly underpaid.
It is understood that there are three Nurses and a Doctor who are seeking Asylum, and should they be successful, they would be ready to work immediately. That issue remains unresolved.
In closing, I further call on the Government to address the crippling issue of high inflation and seriously consider applying a cost-of-living adjustment or a salary increase for our workers.
Given the present economic downturn, most private sector businesses are not in a position to give a salary increase to their workers. Therefore, to ensure these private sector workers also get some financial relief, I suggest that the Government of Montserrat seriously look at giving a month or two of tax-free salaries to all workers across the board.
Our Government must find ways for all workers to benefit and cope with this high inflation. I offer a further suggestion. Our Government must now consider reducing duties and consumption taxes on basic commodities for a period to ease the hardship on its citizens. Government also needs to act with urgency in answering the call of the public towards addressing high fuel prices, increase in Social Security contributions, increase in cost of groceries, basic commodities, utilities and services in general - as these high expenses have collectively eroded the disposable income of all workers on Montserrat. Further hardship has been brought to bare on our workers who are doing their utmost best in difficult times, to deliver services that our people are so desperately in need of. They need help from their Government to cope. The Government has no choice but to act, and to do so swiftly, in the people's best interest.