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Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan has been sidelined with the formation of a new Cabinet-appointed health committee. The committee is headed by Minister of Trade, Industry, Investment and Communications Vasant Bharath. While Khan is a member of the committee which comprises 11 people, insiders within the health sector said he was not asked to lead the council despite being the substantive person in charge of the country’s health sector.
The Sunday Guardian understands that Khan is unhappy with the move and has complained that it makes him almost redundant. In a telephone interview yesterday, Khan confirmed that he was on the committee but when asked for details on its objectives, he directed all questions to Bharath. “I am just on it because I am the Minister of Health. You should ask Vasant about it, he is the chairman,” Khan said.
The Sunday Guardian has learned that the quietly formed committee had its first and only meeting last Monday, but is expected to meet again tomorrow to determine short-term and long-term solutions to problems plaguing the health sector.
This committee seems to share a portfolio almost parallel to that of the Minister of Health and includes Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, Minister of Tertiary Education Fazal Karim, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Marlene Coudray and Minister of Community Development Winston Peters.
The committee also includes the four heads of the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs). The Sunday Guardian understands that the committee is expected to implement a health system that mirrors the Canadian health care system. In a brief telephone interview on Friday, Bharath confirmed that Cabinet had appointed the committee and that he was asked to head it. “We are expected to look at endemic issues affecting the health sector,” Bharath said.
“We have been mandated to determine the major issues affecting the population as it relates to health and the recommendations would be implemented through the RHAs,” he said. “We are simply an oversight committee.” Bharath denied that his appointment to head the health committee sidelined Khan in any way. “He is still the minister in charge of policy for the sector, but he has a lot on his plate,” Bharath said.
When the Sunday Guardian pointed out that Bharath, as substantive head of two ministries and a junior Minister of Finance also had a lot on his plate, Bharath demurred. “It really is a concentrated effort because, as you can imagine, both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of National Security have institutional problems that they have inherited,” he said. Those problems include the waiting time for service at hospitals and clinics, shortage of nurses, doctors emigrating in large numbers, and a bed shortage.
With the committee’s next meeting scheduled for tomorrow, he said, he had a timeline for implementation of the committee’s ideas. “Yes, I do have a timeline in mind for implementation of some of the ideas, but I would rather not say at this point.”