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Restructuring healthcare system identified as a priority area in upcoming budget

Gregory Bowen - heads the Ministry of Finance, which is preparing the highly anticipated 2022 budget

With the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic exposing many weaknesses in the delivery of healthcare in Grenada, the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell is considering restructuring the healthcare system “to adequately meet the mounting needs of our people.”

That’s according to Minister of Finance Gregory Bowen, who acknowledged that the healthcare system is undergoing “significant stress,” while addressing the opening ceremony of the 2022 national budget consultation, held virtually last week Thursday.

The senior government minister, who will deliver the 2022 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure in November, underscored the need to “relook, and even re-engineer” the healthcare system at this “crucial juncture,” noting that “COVID-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities (and) put a strain on our resources – human, and otherwise.”

He identified “protecting lives” as one (1) of six (6) broad strategic areas of focus for the government in going forward.

In response to the increase in hospitalisation since the spike in COVID-19 cases, and community spread detected in August, the Ministry of Health has established five (5) isolation units with a capacity of 93 beds at the St. George’s General Hospital in keeping with international infection and prevention control policies.

However, this move has met significant critique from those who hold the view that COVID-19 patients should not be treated or housed in the same facility as non- COVID-19 patients.

The Ministry of Health, has been receiving external assistance from countries such as Mexico and the United States to complement its staff at the isolation units, which is reportedly manned by a team of 11 doctors who are working full time.

Minister Bowen also addressed the loss of some 14, 000 jobs on the island due to the economic fallout ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that “safeguarding livelihoods,” is another strategic area of focus in the upcoming budget.

However, he said, while “we must still ensure that citizens have the means to earn a living, and can secure the necessities of life with their dignity intact…we must (also) continue to work on transforming Grenada into a modern, dynamic and resilient economy.”

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The senior government minister identified “investing for growth and resilience” as among the other areas of significance for government and cited the “need to look at the policies, projects, and programmes with the greatest potential in this period…that would drive economic growth, foster economic transformation and build resilience.”

This, he said “would require focused attention, and investments in several key areas including agriculture, health and wellness, youth and education, renewable energy, resilient infrastructure, manufacturing, tourism, and digital transformation.”

Prime Minister Mitchell also addressed the opening of the 2022 national budget consultation, highlighting the unique conditions under which the budget is being prepared.

He stated that the island needed to move away from the traditional approach to budgeting due to the new challenges being faced, in preparing the 2022 budget and expressed the view that “the Ministry (of Finance) has an even bigger challenge today than ever in putting that document together simply because it cannot be business as usual…”

“It cannot be the same traditional approach simply because we are dealing with a number of uncertainties (and) some factors that we have never had to confront before,” the Prime Minister said.

The Grenadian leader also used the opportunity to point out that “the solution to deal with the impact (of the pandemic) on our local economy, and our entire society must rely even more than ever on our collective work together as citizens”.

He stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic “has engulfed the entire international community to the point where the governments (which) normally we can look towards or seek support from in times of difficulty (that) they are under tremendous problems with this international pandemic.”

PM Mitchell called for a “collective” effort in the budget consultation process, emphasising that “this is so crucial for us if we are going to go through this because no one knows when this pandemic, when as a country, we can say that we have passed that stage”.

“…It requires, therefore, more support from all of us from all sectors because every single sector of our economy has been affected by this pandemic,” he said.