Statement by Minister of State with Responsibility for Health, Hon. Senator Wendy C. Phipps, Regarding (1) Regenerative Medicine Project At JNF Hospital And Departure Of Chief Medical Officer.

The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis has chosen to clarify the position relative to the Regenerative Medicine project temporarily housed at the Joseph N. France General Hospital, and the departure of Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Patrick Martin.

As Minister of State with Responsibility for Health I wish to state categorically that neither the Ministry of Health nor the JNF General Hospital is engaged in any stem cell project.

Government has given approval to a research project involving the use of plasma-based infusion therapies, to a limited number of overseas patients.

The project, as approved, will not extend to any residents of St. Kitts and Nevis. It is a Phase 2-staged Clinical Trial of a research initiative that has already received US-Food & Drug Administration (FDA) level one approval. The private sector partners of the project include the St. Kitts Marriott (Royal Plastics Group); St. Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation – in an advisory capacity; Canadian businessman, Mr Kevin Klein; and two other investors, including a Brazilian medical group.

This initiative is part of this Government’s commitment to diversify the economy via targeted investments in medical tourism and the medical services sector. By extension, economic investments in the Federation’s health and wellness sector is inclusive of attracting cutting edge technology, research and development in the area of Regenerative Medicine, given that this is, by far, one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of the global healthcare industry.

Within the past six (6) months Cabinet has approved two new business ventures in the area of Regenerative Medicine. Both of these projects have been carefully vetted prior to approval. Advice was sought and obtained from key stakeholders in Health including members of the St. Kitts and Nevis Medical Board, Ministry of Health in the Nevis Island Administration (NIA), and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).

One of the two Regenerative Medicine projects approved by this Government was originally approved by the former Douglas-led Labour Administration on March 5, 2013, via letter signed by then Cabinet Secretary, Mr Joseph Edmeade. Indeed, the previous Government also secured an investment from the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) in the sum of over $800,000 for this private venture.

Based on the agreement between the Government and investors, the project has been approved for temporary housing in the back of the private ward of the JNF General Hospital for a maximum period of six (6) months, during which time the investors would be securing alternate facilities to house the project. The project’s occupancy of three (3) rooms at the Private Ward began on Monday, June 13, 2016, with the therapies to be administered by two Government-paid staff nurses of JNF Hospital, with pro bono, voluntary oversight by Dr Dwayne Archibald, a Government-paid medical practitioner at JNF. Additional oversight of the project is also being provided by the JNF Hospital’s Medical Chief of Staff, Dr Cameron Wilkinson; and the Director of Institutional-based Nursing Services, Matron Sonia Daley-Findlay.

A Brazilian expert, Dr Silvia Lagrotta, who is attached to the project DOES NOT AND HAS NOT EVER administered any therapies to ANY patients in St. Kitts and Nevis. Her presence thus far has been strictly limited to observing the process as a representative of the investor group’s Brazilian partner. In anticipation that Dr Lagrotta will be professionally engaged during the life of this project, her medical credentials have been submitted in the normal course for approval to function within the Federation as a medical practitioner consistent with the laws and regulations of the Federation.

On the matter of the departure of Dr Patrick Martin, the Federation’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), I wish to categorically state that the tenure of Dr Martin, aged 58, has been canvassed by Cabinet for several months. Cabinet’s consideration of this matter is largely due to the unfortunate legacy of Civil Service dysfunction inherited by this Team Unity Administration. It is a well-established fact that this Government inherited a major dysfunction within the Ministry of Health that was brought about by poor relations between the Permanent Secretary and the CMO, and the Permanent Secretary and the former Minister of Health. To be precise, this dysfunction is well known in regional medical circles. While this ministerial dysfunction continued, the CMO attained the retirement age of 55, and would have written on several occasions to seek continued employment. None of his letters to the previous administration were ever acknowledged. When he wrote again in August of 2015, following his 57th birthday in May 2015, Minister of Health, the Hon Eugene Hamilton wrote to the Permanent Secretary with instructions that the CMO remain employed until May 2016. This communique from Minister Hamilton, inexplicably found its way to the desk of the CMO – not the Permanent Secretary to whom it was addressed. The CMO then became privy to the private communication between Minister and Permanent Secretary. He thereafter returned the mail to the office of the Permanent Secretary, claiming to have found it on his desk, already opened, and had affixed his own ‘directive’ to the Permanent Secretary as to how he should treat his employment extension. Dr Martin therefore was well aware, since October 2015, that he was expected to demit office by the end of May 2016.

In addition, Dr Martin had accumulated 356 vacation days as at the end of May 2016. His leave would therefore end on or about November 2017. He has therefore benefitted from extensions well beyond the retirement age of 55 and will be nearly 60 years of age when he officially demits office. In light of these facts, it is extremely unfortunate that Dr Martin has sought to link his retirement to alleged stem cell research when he knows that there is no stem cell research currently occurring in the Federation and he fully understands that his retirement should have been initiated since May 2016.

I hope that this brief statement of the facts assists in bringing clarity to this issue.

Thank you.

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