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The President of the Fiji Medical Association;
The President and members of the Fiji College of General Practitioners;
Officials of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

I’m delighted to be here this morning to officially open the Fiji Medical Association’s 2017 Scientific Conference and speak directly to our doctors and medical professionals, the men and women on the frontlines of our campaign to build a stronger and healthier Fiji.

I’d like to begin by welcoming our regional and international experts to Fiji who will be working with our doctors over the next few days at this conference. We are always keen to engage with our partners from around the world, especially on an issue of such vital importance as the health and wellbeing of our people. So welcome, and thank you for being here.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The success of a government and the progress made by a nation can be measured in a number of ways. It is measured in the opportunities that are afforded to ordinary people, the sense of safety and security they feel in their day to day lives and the quality of the services available to them. But one of the best ways we can measure how far a nation has come is by looking directly at the health and wellbeing of the men and women that call it home. Because caring for its citizens is– ultimately – the most sacred function of any government, and the Government I lead gives the health of the Fijian people the highest priority.

Looking at the health outcomes of Fijians tells us an enormous amount about the lives they lead and about the job we are all doing to help them live longer, healthier and better lives. I’ve said it many times before: a healthy Fiji means a better Fiji. Healthy people are happier, they are more productive and they are more capable of helping us realise the great potential of this nation.

Yesterday I was at Lautoka Hospital, inspecting facilities and meeting with doctors, nurses and patients. I’ve been in hospitals and health centres all across our islands, I’ve listened to ordinary Fijians tell me what they think is working in our health system and what they think needs to improve. Over the years, I’ve seen that we’ve made steady progress making Fiji a healthier place to call home, but I’m here to tell you that I’m confident we can do better.

Doing better starts with our health professionals – it starts with our doctors. It is your commitment to your patients that has the greatest impact on patient outcomes and the faith they place in our healthcare systems. My Government recognises your importance, we know how valuable you are. That is why you all recently received such substantial pay increases.

And as part of the reforms we are making to the Civil Service, doctor’s jobs have been evaluated and the Job Evaluation Leadership Team is currently finalising additional moderations to your salaries. One big change that has been finalised is that on call allowances will now be paid out separately, so we can ensure that process is transparent as possible. And next week, we will be announcing the final salary increases across your profession, as determined by the job evaluations.
We are doing this because we value our doctors. We are doing this to set expectations for the professionalism and commitment to service that we expect from every one of you. We are doing this because we want to retain you in Fiji. And we are doing this to establish a system that rewards on the basis of merit, and merit alone. Not on who you may know or where you may come from, but on your talent, your abilities and your commitment. So if you plan on advancing within this new framework, put your focus on your work, your patients and the good you are capable of achieving.

I’m well aware that the majority of the actions and decisions that determine an individual’s’ health occur outside of a hospital. I’m well aware that we need to be just as ambitious in giving the Fijian people greater opportunities to live active lives, and in generally raising awareness about healthy decision-making. But as doctors, you must never forget that – just I am a servant to the Fijian people as Prime Minister – you are here to serve, you are here to help, and you are here to save lives.

Never forget that the patients you serve are ordinary men and women – they and their families have anxieties, they have concerns and they have questions. Questions you need to be there to answer, and anxieties and concerns that you need to be there to assuage. It’s all about communication. It’s about putting yourself in their shoes and helping them understand their health status and their treatment options.

Depending on you how to handle those interactions, depending on the effort you put in with each patient, you can be seen as a voice of comfort and reason, or as a cold and distant operator. And in their moment of need your patients and their families need that comforting and rational voice. And it is your duty to be that for every one of them.

That being said, we’re not blind to the realities you face on the ground. I know there are challenges in our health sector that can make your jobs extremely difficult. I know you’ve all been in situations where you didn’t have the right tools or equipment or facilities to do the best job that you could.

If there’s any lesson I’ve learned in leadership, it’s that issues don’t get solved by sweeping them into the corner or keeping them in the dark. It’s only when we put them out in the open that we can see them for what they are and go about solving them.

You should therefore in this respect expect further substantial reforms in the not so distant future and which are currently being driven behind the scenes by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and Economy in partnership with some external expertise.

Thank you for the invitation to open this conference, I hope you all have a very productive two and a half days and leave here with lessons and knowledge that will have a direct impact on the health of the Fijian people.
It is my pleasure to officially declare this conference open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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