Thursday, January 18, 2018

Think again, Dr Khan

Express editorial logo452

Mark Fraser

In an apparent show of defiance against the Prime Minister’s decision to block his plan to institute a two-year medical internship for UWI medical students, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan is reportedly targeting non-UWI students as guinea pigs for his proposed two-year internship programme.

What clearly escapes Dr Khan is the Prime Minister’s rationale for calling a halt to his plan. Having been petitioned by students, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar agreed that insufficient consultation had occurred. Further, that having enrolled in the study programme on the basis of a one-year internship, the students “may therefore enjoy a legitimate expectation and contractual entitlement to be allowed to complete their qualification and training on this basis”. For this reason, she saw the need for “deeper conversation… to facilitate a more meaningful and involved process of dialogue and consultation … and allow for a report to be submitted to the Cabinet.”

Without missing a beat, the Health Minister announced that he would now apply the proposed two-year Medical Foundation House Officer Programme to non-UWI students.

Everything about the way in which the Minister of Health has been going about the Extended House Officer Programme is wrong. His claim that the idea of doubling the internship period was linked to last month’s report into the death of Baby Simeon Cottle during delivery makes no sense. It would be the height of impetuousness for the Government to develop and introduce a new policy of such far-reaching implications over the course of a few days. While the Cottle report may suggest student training as an issue to consider, its main findings and recommendation have nothing at all to do with student training but with hospital protocol and the actions of senior medical staff. The public is left to wonder whether the Minister is not simply exploiting public sentiment over the death of Baby Cottle to implement half-thought policy.

The Prime Minister is completely correct to call a halt to this matter although she should have acted much earlier by calling on him to explain a policy decision which, from all appearances, had not gone before Cabinet. In attempting to railroad students into complying with the new House Officer Programme, without consultation or consideration for its legal implications, Dr Khan has demonstrated a level of behaviour that should worry everyone. Instead of adopting a position of defiance now that he has been blocked by the Prime Minister, he should return to the drawing board and begin the process from scratch. If it is to be introduced at all, it should be done with full consultation and on the basis that students are made aware of the period of internship when they begin their study programme.

As far as his position on non-UWI students is concerned, we hope his response was a case of temporary frustration and that he now fully accepts the principle of consultation and respects the legal obligation to all students already in the programme.