Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has blamed public service bureaucracy behind the decision of nurses to boycott last weekend’s vaccination programme, hinting also at the possibility of the government employing retired and foreign health care workers as it continues with its coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic vaccination drive.
The nurses stayed away over the non-payment of overtime wages and Browne said he does not blame the health care workers for their actions.
“Apparently the nurses were to be paid their overtime and for some reason, the bureaucracy, even though the cheque was actually issued to pay them, did not get it right. Unfortunately, the nurses were not paid. I am told there were no vaccinations taking place, which is unfortunate because the last thing we want is to lose momentum and this is where from time to time you see public servants dropping the ball.”
Browne said that the cheque had been issued “over a week ago” but that some official in the Ministry of Health had raised some query to get a replacement cheque.
“No one had the common sense to make sure that it was done and that the nurses were paid on a timely basis,” Browne said, reiterating that while he was not against the actions of the nurses he would have preferred a different outcome.
“I can’t fault the nurses for not showing up to work, even though my preference would have been for them to exercise a little bit more patience,” he said, adding that it was “only after the fact that we were told about it.”
He added: “We have given all the assurances that they would have had the payments ready for the nurses and they drop the ball. This type of performance in the 21st century is totally unacceptable. That type of performance is inimical to growth and development (and) …undermines the vaccination process by virtue of their incompetence.”
“I am not happy about it, but that’s an issue for another time,” Browne said, adding that the government is looking to employ medical workers, including those from overseas, to help with the programme.
“We will also be hiring more doctors and nurses…we will have to look to Cuba and possibly India. We may have to go for retired nurses as well in the US, Canadian Diaspora, Antiguans living in the Diaspora who are available and can come here and work for a few months,” he said, adding that the government is also examining providing temporary employment for retired nurses here.
Since the start of the COVID pandemic in March last year, Antigua and Barbuda has recorded 93 deaths and 3, 750 positive cases.