By Carlena Knight
Medical students who have completed their studies during the Covid-19 pandemic and going forward will have the opportunity to become registered general practitioners.
This follows the passing of the Medical Practitioners Amendment Bill 2021 in Parliament yesterday.
The bill will help to address an issue that has become prevalent with the advent of Covid as officials with the regional accreditation body, the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Other Health Professions (CAAM-HP), cannot travel to the various Caribbean countries to conduct their evaluations in order to grant medical students their licences.
However, this bill enables the Antigua and Barbuda National Accreditation Board to conduct the evaluations and grant a provisional licence to these students so as to not delay the development of the sector in the country.
In his presentation yesterday, Health Minister Molwyn Joseph spoke of the benefits of the legislation.
“If a student who graduates from the university cannot get a licence to practice in the state that the certificate of graduation is issued, then that creates a problem for the students beyond the shores of Antigua,” he said.
“You will need to get a licence in your own jurisdiction for you to be recognised in any other jurisdiction.
“I must say that it is interesting that this is coming at this time because I had a discussion with one of my colleagues in the OECS, specifically the Health Minister in Grenada, who expressed frustration that the universities in Grenada sometimes have difficulty in getting CAAM-HP to grant them this type of licence to those universities and he even indicated that it is the intention of the government of Grenada to amend their act to facilitate exactly what we are doing here today,” Joseph said.
Education Minister Daryll Matthew also threw his support behind the bill.
Meanwhile, local medical institutions will also be able to extend their provisional accreditation for up to five years following the approval of the Accreditation Amendment Bill 2021.
This is a change from the original clause which stipulated a timeframe of up to 12 months.
The National Accreditation Board will now have the power to grant these institutions the provisional accreditation until the medical institution can receive the accreditation from CAAM-HP.
Although showing his support for the principle of the bill, the MP for Barbuda, Trevor Walker, shared his concern over the specific five-year extension.
“CAAM-HP has served a purpose in this region very well, in terms of what it has done in the past and continues to do, and so the impression should not be given at all that in any way this government is trying to circumvent or is trying to go around that process by offering these provisional accreditations.
“I understand what was said and I agree with the principle of what was said, but the reality is, moving it from 12 months to five years is a cause for concern.
“I have no problem maybe looking at two years, three years – but five years, to me, seems like a very long time,” Walker stated.
His concerns were, however, snubbed by the former minister of education Michael Browne who said this is in fact a common practice worldwide.
“From Cambridge to Australia to the United States are considering this, so we are actually at the head of the curve by going forward and seeking to provide this provisional accreditation,” Browne said.
“What the five years does, it gives the minister of education, it gives the accrediting body and board and it also gives the Cabinet and the government of Antigua and Barbuda the latitude that they can say to this institution, if you have a difficulty gaining faculty, if you have a challenge in terms of retention of students, if you have a challenge with any kind of standard in order to meet it, you have up to five years.
“It’s not automatic you have five years but it gives the minister and the Cabinet the latitude that they will have up to five years to meet the provisional standards that have been set by CAAM-HP,” Browne explained.