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“Certain positions go with certain benefits”- Health Minister on health financing for politicians

Minister of Health Dr. George Norton

by Zena Henry

Health Minister Dr. George Norton has picked no bone with the recently displayed “exorbitant” health finances allocated to members of the former administration stating that, “there are certain positions that go with certain benefits.”

During an exclusive interview  with Demerara Waves Monday May 25, the recently appointed health minister was adamant that there are provisions for ministers and persons who hold certain offices to access certain funds for health purposes, but identified that the “crux of the matter is when ordinary citizens are not privileged to certain benefits.”

Norton was referring to a list that went public which showed People’s Progressive Party (PPP) members receiving sums of money to conduct medical procedures; with the most talked about being the former Amerindian Affairs Minister, Pauline Sukhai receiving some GUY$2M to conduct dental work.

Norton explained firstly that while the information was public and the ministers would have been entitled to receive the sums, “It might be a situation of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

The doctor explained that similar to Sukhai’s case, he too had dental work done from his own pocket and before it was completed he had ran over the GUY$1M mark and suspected that it would have surpassed GUY$3M had he continued. “Now while I might have been in a position to afford this, the poor man on the street cannot do so.”

He noted therefore that while there are established mechanisms for citizens to receive medical funding, “it is definitely an area earmarked for review.” He said this matter is handled at Cabinet level and he will be pushing the issues intensely.

Norton said there are other situations where for example, a public servant undergoes surgery and was given some amount of money by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), pays some cash to the hospital, but still owes. “We are prepared to look at situations like these to see how much assistance we can render. We are prepared to look at allocating financing to any Guyanese,” he declared.

The Minister said however that currently, there are established amounts of money that a person can obtain from the Ministry of Health which is approved by Cabinet for health benefits. This, he explained, does not only include severe health cases, but it can also be for investigative purposes where MIR and CAT scans for example, are subsided and is done at the city’s public hospital.

He said accessing the fund “is not such a long drawn out service and it isn’t ad-hoc. There is an established officer in the ministry of health that looks after that.” He added too that there are certain policies that do exist; for example the non-payment of airfare and accommodation in some cases where patients are required to get medical attention overseas after all the local procedures would have been followed.

In the face of scathing criticism at the height of the recent general election campaign, the then PPPC-led administration had assured that the eligibility of ministers and government officials for medical assistance would have been addressed with one option being a medical insurance scheme to avoid a drain on the national treasury.