PHILIPSBURG–The Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA often sees requests for permits for medical professionals that do not meet the criteria set in the country’s laws and Health Minister Emil Lee says permit requests must meet these criteria.
He said on Wednesday that while it is always the mission to work within the boundaries of the law, “when facts are presented that do not allow us to move forward within our legal limits, permits are not granted. These outcomes are discussed with our stakeholders and we trust that they share our interest in not only compliance to the laws, but the commitment to public safety.
“I am bound by the laws that are in place for our country. We struggle sometimes with finding the balance and this is why we are working on our St. Maarten BIG [National Ordinance on Individual Medical Professionals – Ed.] registry, our registration requirements and how we can improve our process. But in the meantime, we need to find the balance in flexibility and ease as well as the quality and public safety.”
Commenting on allegations that the Ministry is not being proactive in the recruitment of a psychiatrist for Mental Health Foundation (MHF), Lee said it is not the role of the Ministry to source or find medical professionals for institutions. The VSA Ministry has two specific roles from a public health and policy perspective: it ensures that the quality and standards of care are sufficient and it has a regulatory function, which the Inspectorate executes.
“The Mental Health Foundation is one of our local health care institutions currently facing challenges with the recruitment of qualified health care professionals. The Ministry of VSA is in ongoing consultation with the MHF regarding their recruitment process, obstacles and the permitting procedures. The MHF has made known to the Ministry that their financial conditions pose an additional challenge in the recruitment of qualified professionals that meet the standards of St. Maarten laws,” Lee said.
“We have historically done everything we can to facilitate the Mental Health Foundation. We recognise the value of mental health, especially after Hurricane Irma. Post-Irma, the Ministry was contacted with a donation for three vehicles, to which the Ministry in turn made the donation to the Mental Health Foundation. At the time the foundation was leasing vehicles at a sum of around US $25,000 per year. The donation was made in recognition of their financial need, in an effort to help them save money.”
He said another action of the Ministry is that the MHF’s request for a new building is being reviewed to see if it can be a project funded by the World Bank. “We are doing this because we recognise that they have issues with their current building size and structure,” Lee said.
The Ministry recognises MHF’s need and a solution proposed to the MHF has been to seek out health care professionals from the European Union (EU) or BIG registered countries. The register is based on the Professionals in Individual Healthcare Act (Wet op de Beroepen in de Individuele Gezondheidszorg BIG) and the register is a central, official register of health care professionals that is kept on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport VWS.
Lee said this approach could yield more suitable candidates with a higher chance of meeting the criteria of St. Maarten laws. “It is often the case that institutions seek out more economically beneficial recruitment routes. However, the Ministry stands firm in its obligation to process requests within the confines of the law.
“An example of some of the criteria of the application process is that the individual has to be registered with the licensing authority in the country [where] they are currently practicing; have education equivalent to Dutch standard; and must have a letter of good medical conduct (not older than three months).”
Lee said the VSA Ministry has the responsibility to adhere to legislation as it pertains to registering health care professionals to practise and service the population of St. Maarten. This is governed by the national ordinance regulating the execution of healthcare which outlines the conditions and criteria for health care professionals willing to serve in St. Maarten.
For the Ministry to serve the population, especially on matters such as health care, it cannot be careless and, for public safety, must ensure that permits are granted based on screening protocols set by law, he said.