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Dispute brews – Hospital pushed to review salaries

Dr Harlan Vanterpool

Dr Harlan Vanterpool

The BVI Medical Doctors Association is fuming over what it said is the government’s delay in addressing the ‘discrepancies’ in compensation being made to different medical practitioners employed to the state-owned BVI Health Services Authority (BVIHSA), which manages all public health facilities locally.

In a letter dated November 4, 2016 the Board of the BVIHSA then headed by Bishop John Cline promised that a review of the salaries would have been done by December 31 last year.

In that letter, Bishop Cline told the Medical Doctors Association: “We will be using the documents received from an external company to assist in identifying all discrepancies to be addressed by December 31, 2016. It is our aim that, after successful review, we will be able to streamline accurate compensation for years of experience, skills set, and qualifications.”

When the December 31 deadline passed and the Medical Doctors Association did not hear from the BVIHSA, the lobby group headed by Dr Harlan Vanterpool sought an explanation.

It received an apology in a letter dated February 17 this year from the recently appointed Chief Executive Officer of the BVIHSA Paula Chester-Cumberbatch.

In the letter conveying the apology, Chester-Cumberbatch also stated that the matter regarding compensation will be addressed in a board meeting set for tomorrow, February 21.

“The compensation changes and supporting contractual arrangements will be rectified [at the meeting], she said.

Chester-Cumberbatch went on to clarify that the initial December 31 deadline was missed due to what was the forced resignation of Bishop Cline last month as Chairman of the Board of Directors at BVIHSA.

Publication of ‘injustice’ forces action

Meanwhile, the Medical Doctors Association had indicated that it was prompted to request an end to the payment ‘injustices’ after BVI News Online published on November 3 last year, information that Minister of Health Ronnie Skelton provided in the House of Assembly.

“This publication stated many injustices [regarding compensation] that were previously only suspected and couldn’t be proven,” declared the Medical Doctors Association in a letter to the BVIHSA.

It noted that it has ‘chosen to capitalize’ on the publication of the various compensations.

As such, in a letter dated December 5 last year, the Association requested – among other things – the implementation of standardized salary scales, and the standardization of all on-call allowances.

It also called for local medical practitioners to be paid housing allowances as their expat counterparts, adding that locals are the worst paid in the public healthcare system.

Locals versus expats

Elaborating on its claim regarding compensation for locals, the Medical Doctors Association declared that the time has come for the playing field to be level.

“One of the grossest discrepancies is that between local doctors and those doctors on contracts. Local physicians are, and should be the backbone of the BVIHSA. They are the ones that will remain when everyone else returns to their homeland…. We (locals) are the most poorly remunerated despite having the same skill set, experience, and training as other physicians,” the Association headed by Dr Vanterpool claimed.

It further described as ‘unconscientious’, what it said is the BVIHSA’s expectation that local physicians should start at a comparative disadvantage.

“As local physicians, we do not receive contracts – and thus, we do not receive gratuities. We must work for 25 years or more to receive such benefits. When we must work weekends, holidays, unsociable hours and spend great amounts of long time away from our families to receive such benefits, it is unfathomable,” added the Medical Doctors Association.

On-call allowances

It also explained its appeal for on-call allowances to be standardized, adding that some persons are now receiving below the minimum wage.

“Where on-call allowances are concerned, the Medical Officer I makes $407.85 monthly or $3.19 per hour whilst on call. This physician is remunerated at a rate of 10% of base salary. This is significantly less than the $6 minimum wage as stipulated by the Government of the British Virgin Islands.”

“Regarding on-call allowances, the best paid specialist in the [BVI Health Services] Authority makes $2,157.50 monthly or $14.19 per hour. This physician is remunerated at a rate of 30% of the base salary. There should be consideration for making this standard for everyone. These on-call wages should not only be streamlined, but should parallel to local laws,” added the Medical Doctors Association.

Standardized salary scales

Meanwhile, the lobby group elaborated on its request for physicians to be remunerated based on standardized salary scales, determined by qualification, experience, and skill level.

“Once each physician has the required qualifications, he/she should be remunerated based on the Medical Officer Scale, Registrar Scale, or Specialist Scale. The position that they are placed in the scale should be based on their experience or amount of time post qualification. The specialty in which they work and the amounts associated with that specialty should also be a major factor in the placement in these scales.”

“Physicians can be further placed based on their skill level. This, however, is very subjective. But examples would include general surgeons that can do laparoscopic surgery versus those who do not have that ability. A second example would be anesthesiologists that are capable of inserting haemodialysis catheters versus those who cannot do so. Those two examples are both pertinent to the everyday working in those two specialties. These are measures that can be used to make the remuneration packages fair and equitable,” the Medical Doctors Association further said.

Late payment of gratuity

The lobby group also raised issue about what it deemed the late payment of gratuity by the BVIHSA.

“When contracts are completed, gratuities should be ready on the completion date. This shows that the Authority is professional and is interested in fair-play. It is customary for physicians to wait for months before their contracts are honoured.”

“When physicians must wait for months for their gratuity to be paid without any correspondence it shows a lack of respect and a gross disregard for one’s efforts,” the Medical Doctors Association further claimed in a letter to the BVIHSA.

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