24 January 2019
I gave a commitment to provide a statement in response to the petition which was handed to me on Friday, 18January, regarding Dr Rhys Cottle’s contract with SHG. I took delivery of the petition because the Governor has constitutional responsibility for the public service. However, I undertake this constitutional role very much working in partnership with the Chief Secretary and her team.
I would like to start by acknowledging the strength of feeling, the engagement, and commitment that people have demonstrated to the local health service. A positive from this petition and the wide participation is that I can see that the public appreciate the work that our doctors do. Thank you for this and for bringing the issue to my attention.
In considering the petition, I have to bear in mind that the future health needs of the people of St Helena are changing. This means the health service also needs to change. We are already seeing more demand on the health services, and in different areas, such as the complications arising from diabetes and hypertension which can lead to strokes, heart, kidney, and eye problems. More than half of the population of St Helena has high blood pressure and this can be an early sign of heart disease and circulation problems. A large proportion of the population suffer from osteoarthritis. 70% of the population are overweight which will place demands on the health services in future. These percentages are all higher than, say, in the UK.
As a result, we have expanded the health service to keep up with the increased demand and to focus more on preventing diseases from happening in the first place. In terms of our doctors, in the last three to four years we have doubled the number of doctors available. We have also brought in, or plan to bring in, new specialisms. The plan going forward is that our doctors, both those resident locally and the visiting specialists, will – in addition to their general medical duties – have a mixture of the following specialisms: chronic diseases, orthopaedics, surgical, ophthalmology (eye), nephrology (kidney), cardiology (heart), ENT (ears, nose & throat), endocrinology (diabetes), paediatrics (children) and others as relevant. There are still some vacancies to fill before we have the full set of specialisms that will meet most peoples’ needs going into the future but these should be filled very soon.
Although there were some communications around our plans, I recognise we could have done better to convey this information about the future staffing more widely, and for that I apologise. To this end, I have asked the Health Directorate and the Public Health Committee to organise general Q&A sessions via the radio and other means for the public to ask questions about future development plans for the health service.
I believe all our doctors do an amazing job. I would like to join you in thanking Dr Cottle (Rhys) for his contribution to the health service on St Helena over the past four years and wish him every success in future endeavours as his contract with SHG comes to a planned conclusion. He obviously has made significant contributions that we all appreciate. Thank you Dr Rhys.
Governor Lisa Honan
24 January 2019