Reports of shortages of essential equipment, poor working conditions and low staff moral all reminiscent of 21 years ago in the Solomon Islands

DEAR EDITOR, it wasn’t very long ago that I wrote a letter expressing my shock and concern when seeing images of patients sleeping on the floor at the National Referral Hospital (NRH) because of a reported shortage of hospital beds.

The report illustrating the then conditions at the NRH had been relayed by Radio New Zealand.

An article in today’s Island Sun newspaper (Friday 20 July) gave graphic details of the current dire conditions prevailing at the NRH’s medical laboratory with air conditioning units out of order, important machines defunct and working conditions in the laboratory so bad that Dr. Culwick Togamana, the Environment Minister, said the staff in the laboratory shouldn’t remain there because of concerns over their health.

I concern myself very much about the NRH and while appreciating writing about the working conditions and reported shortages of medical supplies are sensitive matters, I have no wish to enter into any kind of ‘blame game’ or become, as an outsider, involved in any degree of politics involving the administration of the hospital.

I would like to say, however, that the MOHMS/NRH signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with my partner charity, ‘Take My Hands’ for the annual supply of between 8 to 10 shipping containers per year of requested medical equipment and supplies to ensure the hospital did not run out of hospital beds and medical supplies, especially consumable medical supplies that were used and discarded daily.

The MOU required the payment of NZ$50,000 per year, payable in two stages, of NZ$25,000 each.

After receiving the first NZ$25,000 ‘Take My Hands’ began to ship the first batch of containers of equipment that had been requested as ‘essentials’ and coordinated by myself as a party to the MOU.

The invoice for the second stage payment went unanswered and Take My Hands then very kindly offered to accept just NZ$12.500 so the supply of equipment could continue.

To-date the payment has not been met and consequently shipments from New Zealand are suspended.

As I have explained before, the Solomon Islands Forest Association (SFA) stepped in to help and donated more than US$11,000 to ‘Take My Hands’ to send two forty foot containers with 100 hospital beds to meet the shortages for beds at the NRH and at two provincial hospitals.  Those beds are still to be shipped from Wellington but expected in Honiara before long.

The shipment of equipment and medical supplies from ‘Take My Hands’ has considerable cost-saving benefits for the MOHMS/NRH and, in my humble view, the MOU is worth continuing.

What I read today of the prevailing conditions at the NRH Medical Laboratory takes my mind back to the similar nightmare conditions I found in all police facilities at Rove, including staff housing, at Honiara Police Station and especially at  Naha on assuming office 21 years ago.  Similar run down conditions were present in police accommodation and facilities throughout the country.

To make matters worse at the time the members of the police were not being paid, they had no change of uniforms and telephones had been disconnected.

I described those dreadful conditions in Chapter 15 and Chapter 16 of my book ‘Policing a Clash of Cultures’ and the extracts are available today in the publication ‘Solomon Times on Line.’

I am glad to say that with the help of Australia, New Zealand and initially, Taiwan, police working conditions and facilities have considerably improved since 1997, but sadly seemingly not so at such an essential public service hospital as the NRH.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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