The Cabinet has been sitting for far too long on the specialist retention strategy or proposal that the health ministry put up early this year through the Royal Civil Service Commission. Half the year is gone already and there has not been any word or signal forthcoming from the Cabinet. The wait, whatever the reason it is contributing to, has been awfully long. It is past time the Cabinet told the ministry what actions or measures must be employed to address the issue of specialists leaving the system.

Losing specialists that number only about a few in the civil service could have both immediate and long-term impact on the service delivery of the individual sector and department. In the health sector, in particular, the impact will be felt acutely painfully. Forget specialists, the sector today doesn’t even have enough ‘general’ doctors. Going by the current number of specialists in the sector – 85 all told – the figure works out to something like 8,000 patients per specialist. The number is even more worrying when it comes to the only five super specialists in the sector – one super specialist for every 140,000 patients.

According to records made available to us, at least five medical specialists have resigned in the last five years and one superannuated. That is, in the last five years, we have lost one specialist every year.

We have no way of knowing what measures were proposed to retain the medical specialists, or whether the proposal is within the range of our capacity to accept, improve and employ to harvest the benefits of its larger and longstanding objectives. What we know, though, is that time is running out and that we can ill afford to delay any further. Even as we speak there could be medical specialists somewhere drafting his resignation letter or brooding over it. Oh, did we even consider how many specialists and super specialists could superannuate in the near foreseeable future?

The problem that the health sector is faced with today concerning retention of specialist is monumental and it will require formidable resolve and shrewdness of head and heart to tackle it. It will be a challenge to stop the specialists from hoping on to better-paying workplaces. Countries like the Maldives, Singapore, and Australia offer lucrative options to young and highly skilled medical professionals.

From the little that we know were included in the proposal like giving on-call allowance to specialists and sub-specialist, efforts are being made in earnest to hold them back although we are yet to figure how attractive the package will be. Such incentivising approaches may not appear like a fair deal to others in the system but our aim should be to retain the best we have. The question of a deal being fair or not flies out of the window so.

Election is nearing. With it comes the danger of losing good and highly skilled medical professionals to politics. The last two elections robbed us of six medical specialists. We are not prepared to lose more. Wherever the proposal is, in whosoever’s hands, an answer to the health ministry is long overdue.