St. Eustatius and Saba will soon receive a slightly larger helicopter for the medical evacuation of patients. Dutch Minister of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports Edith Schippers stated this in a debate with the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday. The Daily Herald writes that Schippers announced that she had given the “green light” for a new contract with a company that will arrange the medical evacuation of patients from St. Eustatius and Saba by helicopter. She could not give specifics because the contract had not been finalised. The minister said she expected the process for a new contract to be completed within a few days after which she would officially inform the Second Chamber by letter about the details. She did say that the new helicopter would be “slightly bigger” than the current one. The contract with the current helicopter service provider, National Helicopters Inc. from Canada ended on April 1 this year. The Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS has been negotiating a new contract for the past few months.
Member of the Second Chamber Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) brought up the issue of the helicopter during Thursday’s general debate with the minister about health care in the Caribbean Netherlands. Van Raak again stated, as he has done in previous meetings with Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk, that the current helicopter was too small. “We have a super expensive helicopter that is too small. Medical personnel don’t even fit in it, except for one nurse from Saba who has a small composure,” he said. According to Van Raak, the helicopter also does not have proper medical equipment. He deemed the situation all in all “genuinely stupid.” He also asked the minister why she had not explored the possibilities to cooperate with the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard and Dutch Defence to make use of their helicopter for medical evacuation purposes.
Schippers replied that cooperating with the Coast Guard/Defence seemed to be a “nice idea” and a “multifunctional solution.” However, she realised that this would be impossible due to practical reasons. She explained that the medical evacuation helicopter for St. Eustatius and Saba needs to be on stand-by 24/7 and this is not possible with a Coast Guard/Defence helicopter.
Van Raak further inquired about the high cost of medication on St. Eustatius and Saba. He asked whether the system of importing medication via private drugstores on St. Maarten was still in use and whether it was possible to import these via the Saba hospital which would be a cheaper option.
Schippers explained that medication for St. Eustatius and Saba was directly purchased via the Netherlands, which automatically resulted in lower prices.
Van Raak also brought up the Saba Medical School and inquired about the realisation of a medical school on St. Eustatius. He said the medical school on Saba had proved to be a “great success,” also because of its positive impact on the local economy. “There are also plans for a medical school in St. Eustatius, but it seems that there are difficulties with the permits,” said Van Raak. He asked for a clarification and also wanted to know about the role of the Dutch Government in this. He further asked whether having a medical school on both Saba and St. Eustatius could have an amplifying effect or that they were “in each other’s way.”
Schippers replied that she had nothing against another medical school on the islands. But, she added, “It has to be in order quality-wise.” She said that her ministry dealt with this issue together with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science OCW which is responsible for permits in this area.