State Secretary of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports Paul Blokhuis does not agree with Saba’s Executive Council that the Caribbean Netherlands Health Insurance Office ZVK should have informed local authorities before implementing changes in the transport of patients on-island and off-island.
Blokhuis stated in his response to written questions of Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Nevin Özütok of the green left party GroenLinks last Thursday that it was important to properly inform all parties involved in the medical referral of patients. These parties are primarily the patients who are being referred and the medical providers and health care organisations that refer the patients, he stated.
Özütok submitted questions after Saba’s Executive Council complained about the ZVK’s unilateral decisions to limit the transport of patients on the island and to secure the services of St. Maarten Airways (SXM Airways) to transport patients to St Maarten.
Blokhuis said he found it important to have “good communication” with the public entities. “That is why ZVK and the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS remain in touch with the public entity Saba about medical referrals,” he stated.
According to Blokhuis, the specific policy changes about which Saba’s Executive Council had not been informed were not far-reaching and therefore it was unnecessary to update the local authorities before they went into effect. He stated that the public entities were only informed and/or consulted in cases of changes in regulations and legislation that have a large impact on Caribbean Netherlands residents ‘That was not the case in this situation,” he said
Blokhuis noted that ZVK was the entity that executed the access of health care in the Caribbean Netherlands on behalf of the VWS ministry. “The public entities have no role in this, because the ZVK deals with the contract party in question.”
Answering Özütok’s question about the fact that ZVK only informed the people in Saba via a press release after complaints of the Executive Council, Blokhuis stated: “The office of ZVK on Saba thoroughly and carefully informs all patients about the rules and regulations in case of medical referrals abroad.”
He confirmed that ZVK had published a press release with information about the changed policy in reaction to articles in the media following a written statement of Saba’s Executive Council. “All patients who were affected were informed,” he added.
Blokhuis explained why ZVK had taken the decisions regarding transport of Saba patients. The decision-taking concerned two parts of the route that patients take when they have to leave the island for medical treatment. The first part concerns the on-island transport to and from the airport. The second part concerns the flights between Saba and St. Maarten.
ZVK has contracted the services of Accessible Ventures for ground transportation of patients in wheelchairs and for those who cannot physically manage to get to and from the airport on their own. This transportation is based on a referral of a medical practitioner.
Blokhuis stated that the ground transportation regulation has not yet been adapted, but that ZVK has to pay attention that this regulation is carried out cost-efficiently. He said the medical centres in Saba and St. Eustatius know about the rules of the ground transportation services and the patients were informed about the route and the conditions of their medical referral.
As for the flights, Blokhuis explained that patients had been transported on Windward Islands Airways Winair until recently. “ZVK repeatedly received complaints from patients and referring entities about the limited availability of seats on Winair flights. That is why ZVK researched alternatives for air transport late 2018. The evaluation showed that SXM Airways had the necessary landing permit and could be used for medical referrals from Saba.”
Blokhuis claimed that before deploying flights on SXM Airways, ZVK had talked with “the most important parties in the area of health care and the Saba government”
“Only after these talks, ZVK hired the services of SXM Airways for medical referrals per March 1,” he stated.
Saba’s Executive Council stated in a press release early March that it had been made aware of the new ZVK policy regarding the use of SXM Airways to transport patients from Saba to St. Maarten and the restrictions on the use of Accessible Ventures to transport clients in Saba only after the measures had gone into effect.
“The Saba Government was confronted with these facts and was never involved in this decision-taking by the ZVK and neither was it informed by the ZVK on these matters. After taking note of the implementation of the new policy, the Executive Council immediately sent a letter to the ZVK main office in Bonaire to seek clarification on the new policy that was implemented without government’s knowledge,” it was stated.
The Executive Council also urged ZVK to communicate with the Saba government about policy changes that affected the Saba patients. The Saba government further denounced reports on social media suggesting that the Iotal government had any part in these decisions.
Özütok was not pleased with Blokhuis’ reply to her written questions. “This is a typical case of a Dutch haughty attitude. Blokhuis says ZVK did not have to inform Saba’s Executive Council about changes in patient transport. That is no way to treat an island government in the Kingdom,” she reacted.
The Daily Herald.