The government’s announcement that the Overseas Medical Referral Programme (O.M.R.P.) has now been extended to India – with the likelihood of New Zealand being totally excluded - would without a doubt raise eyebrows.
But then that’s expected.
Especially if you saw the way Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi conveyed the message when he broke the news.
At the beginning of the week, the Prime Minister said it was all about saving money.
“We know it’s far but it is cheaper,” Tuilaepa said, comparing India to New Zealand where most patients are sent.
“This is a great relief for us as it will save money. To tell you the truth, it is more costly to send patients to New Zealand than India.”
At the moment, the scheme with New Zealand costs the government some $20million a year. But now that a “cheaper” option has availed itself, the Prime Minister indicated the decision to send patients to India is a no brainer.
“If it is cheaper to send them to India, then why should we still send them to New Zealand?” he said.
How much cheaper though he did not say. He also did not address the risk of travel and other factors such as the quality of health care and health care providers available in India.
In a statement issued by the government yesterday, it clarified that the arrangement has been in the pipeline for a while (see story page 18).
“The people’s lives is very important, and having the best health services locally remains a top priority for the government,” Tuilaepa is quoted as saying.
“The new arrangement will benefit the people of Samoa tremendously with the opportunity of referred patients getting the best treatments overseas, and the exposure of our medical staff to professional medical specialists that will be working locally-it will enhance the level of understanding and skills for our medical people.
“The partnership between the two countries will allow the performance of medical services that’s not available around our region at a cost-effective arrangement.”
But what about the logistics?
Well it seems that P.M. Tuilaepa and his government has it all figured out.
Listen to him: “Whenever we need to send a patient to India for treatment, they will have money for their fares, not only for the patient but also their family members and where they will stay.
“The family members who wish to accompany the patient will stay at a hotel until the patient is well and able to fly back home.”
What if the patient needs to be there for six months or more? Will they continue to pay for a hotel?
Tuilaepa went on to praise the quality of doctors in India.
“If you go to New Zealand, you will see that a lot of doctors there are Indians. Even when we have specialists from overseas visiting our hospital, most of them are Indians,” he said.
But the Prime Minister is so taken by the quality of doctors from India, he said the government are now looking at bringing in more specialists to work in Samoa.
“If we can bring in doctors from India to work in our hospitals, our doctors can then learn from them by observing how they (Indian doctors) carry out operations. This is to avoid having problems that can affect people’s lives.”
But has anybody stopped to ask about the amount of retraining and stringent exams Indian doctors from India have to pass to work in New Zealand or Australia?
Beyond the feel good political statements from the Prime Minister, there must be a method in thy madness.
And we can only hazard a guess.
This could be either the government’s latest blunder or it might be another indication of a government that is broke and so desperate it would risk people’s lives to save money and save face. Which is sad really, isn’t it?
What do you think?
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Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless!