Prime Minister Dr the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell has underscored accountability and cooperation as key guiding principles for the proper functioning of the Ministry of Health.
Continuing his series of meetings with the various ministries, Dr Mitchell met Wednesday with the Minister of Health, Honourable Nickolas Steele and senior staff in that ministry. Reflecting on the recent separation of health and hospital and community services, Dr Mitchell said the 2 must function collaboratively.
The Prime Minister reiterated the revolutionary nature of the division and noted that there will be a period of adjustment. However, he said, “No section of the ministry should make any decision without consulting the other section. There should be no perception that one Minister or Permanent Secretary is more senior than another; maybe with respect to years of service but that is all. Decisions may not always impact the other section but this consultative approach is good for relationship building. Information sharing is also an indicator of effective leadership and helps to pave the way for implementation of policy decisions.”
On the subject of accountability, Dr Mitchell said it is important that public officers understand the system under which they operate. Speaking specifically to the Permanent Secretaries, he said, “It is important to understand the rules that guide the operation of the public sector. If you are ever called upon to act in a manner that is not consistent with the rules, you are within your right to seek a directive in writing. There must be accountability in the process and you are the accounting officers.”
Dr Mitchell also underscored accountability in relation to human resource matters, citing the absence of appropriate review and appraisal mechanisms. He said, “Healthcare is about life and death and we cannot endorse irresponsible behaviour that affects the lives of people. It appears that there isn’t sufficient tenacity in the healthcare system to confront those issues. There seems to be a buddy system that provides protection for individuals rather than seek accountability and discipline where necessary. This cannot be condoned.”
The meetings with senior ministry staff are primarily geared towards providing a forum for sharing concerns and recommendations.
Among the issues raised by staff at Wednesday’s meeting were conditions at the Mt Gay Psychiatric Hospital, the rate of staff turnover; relevant training for nurses and other health staff; the ability of the ministry to adapt to the dynamic health care profile and the impact of chronic diseases on the healthcare system.
In his comments, the Health Minister stated that the past year has been a particularly trying one for the Ministry of Health. He said, “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has left health workers tired but they are also stronger and more resilient and I commend all of the efforts. The public has recognised the good work we have done and what we now need to do is focus on the areas that need improvement.”
The Prime Minister assured the Health Minister and his administrative team of his full support as efforts continue to bring about further improvements in the health sector.