Several issues continue to impact medical and emergency response on each of the main sister islands across the British Virgin Islands.

This is according to a recent document observed by 284News which was prepared by the Sister Islands Unit and the Office of the Deputy Governor.

The document highlighted several issues in an assessment conducted in 2022 that involved various government departments, units and organisations.

These entities included the BVI Health Services Authority, the Fire and Rescue Department, the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR), District offices on each of the main sister islands and business owners within the hospitality industry.

The issues found within the government-based entities ranged from lack of staffing to lack of supplies and equipment, and found a huge inconsistency with protocols that exist for medical evacuation.

As it relates to lack of staffing, the assessment found that all the entities interviewed “spoke to a need for adequate staffing” with some departments operating with “less than a skeleton staff” and not receiving the support needed to properly execute their duties.

On the topic of supplies and equipment, entities expressed “having to wait sometimes for one to two months for critical supplies needed to carry out duties.” The absence of an ambulance on Jost Van Dyke was also highlighted considering the large elderly population and high influx of tourists which emphasises the critical need for such on the island.

No established process for medical evacuation on JVD & Anegada

The assessment also found that no established process or course of action for emergency response exists on the sister islands of Jost Van Dyke and Anegada.

It further revealed that despite having processes in place for Virgin Gorda they were found to be “flawed and filled with operational challenges that must be remedied.”

The document said, “Most residents opt to use their own connections and resources to get loved ones transported to the main island of Tortola. This poses to be quite stressful for residents and should be established within the ministry and shared with communities. There have been several noted incidents that have taken place over the course of the year that have had ill or damaged residents waiting hours for medical evacuation.”

A discovery was also made that a lack of awareness and information on the steps to be taken in the event of an emergency after the clinic exists among residents on Jost Van Dyke and Anegada.

The report said, “During a medical emergency, the average sister island resident does not have a full understanding of the process that should be taken after clinical assessment or even which number to call for EMT assistance. Additionally, with the amount of tourists that visit the sister islands it is important that communities are fully aware of steps.”

Lack of trust in the system

One of the main findings from the study conducted on the businesses and community members was the lack of trust in the existing medical and emergency response system.

“Community members interviewed shared a common lack of trust in the system and opt to seek medical attention off-island if possible. Additionally, some have even chosen to sign waivers so as to not be transferred to the hospital to receive medical care. Most, do not contact the emergency switch board and make calls directly to persons working with Fire and Rescue or VISAR in the event of an emergency,” the report said.

The report also proposed a number of solutions to remedy problems that were discovered.

These include: having stakeholder sessions; the establishment of protocols; emergency training; establishment of medical evacuation processes on each sister island; budgeting for staffing, ambulance boat, barracks and an ambulance in 2024; the development of quicker requisitioning; and hosting community awareness sessions.