Dame Billie recommends NIS wellness benefit
A former Minister of Health is calling for “wellness benefit” to be added to the range of National Insurance Scheme (NIS) assistance packages, specifically to finance services at the nation’s polyclinics.
Dame Billie Miller said that such a benefit, supported by the working population, could better equip the clinics to fight the spread of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), while relieving the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) of its current burden of having to provide primary care services.
Dame Billie, who served as Minister of Health from 1976 to 1981, made the suggestion during the question and answer session that followed a presentation on financing for the QEH by Chief Executive Officer Dr Dexter James, in the Henry Fraser Lecture Theatre of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.
As the minister four decades ago, Dame Biller added unemployment benefits to the NIS portfolio of services, and she said Barbados’ current circumstances of rapidly spreading NCDs, along with a crumbling health care system, made introduction of this new form of worker-driven assistance necessary.
“If we put a wellness benefit into the National Insurance Scheme, all those who work would be carrying it. And I envisage that would be used to upgrade the polyclinics,” she said.
“That would be almost all for the primary health care, and that is where it begins. If we’re going to be fighting NCDs and a whole host of other things, it really has to start at the primary level.”
Dame Billie supported a view long aired by medical officials that the QEH was being misused by having it dispense services that ought to be delivered at outpatient clinics.
“I see the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as an exclusionary tertiary care institution. It is a teaching hospital of the University of the West Indies,” she said.
Addressing the CEO, she asked: “What would be the financial impact if the primary and secondary care services which are currently entertained at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital were totally taken out of the QEH, and located in separate primary and secondary care institutions?”
Dame Billie recalled that the polyclinics “were conceived then to be institutions which would be in the community, because the whole purpose was decentralizing services well into the communities”.
She said after moving all primary and secondary care to the polyclinics with the aid of the NIS wellness benefit, “then we will see what the true cost to the QEH is, because the QEH has been carrying these other levels of health care, almost from the inception”.
“The time has long past when we need to cut those navel strings and let the QEH do its work as a tertiary institution and a teaching institution of the University of the West Indies,” Dame Billie stressed.