Emergency! Health ministry seeks additional funding to address severe problems

Dr Harvey, the permanent secretary in the ministry, also said that efforts are being made through the National Health Fund and the CHASE Fund to acquire equipment. Dr Harvey was responding to complaints by doctors, published in the Jamaica Observer on Monday, about a lack of equipment and medicines at three of the island’s major hospitals.

The doctors, who all requested anonymity, were responding to this week’s Sunday Observer story which exposed the conditions under which they work at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) and Spanish Town Hospital as well as the poor treatment received by patients, mostly poor Jamaicans.

One surgeon at the KPH had told the Observer that on a number of occasions surgeries have had to be cancelled or postponed because of a shortage of equipment and the malfunctioning of others.

The doctor pointed out that the elevator at the hospital “hardly ever works”, creating a problem when patients had to be transported to operating theatres for surgery.

He also complained about a lack of antibiotics and said that the gowns used by health personnel are not appropriate for surgery. Another doctor at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) said that there are no purple top tubes, which are used to check blood count, neither are there any branulas used to insert IV drip, or any prednisone — an anti-inflammatory drug.

At the Mandeville Regional Hospital, a doctor said basic supplies are often out of stock.

Yesterday, the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) blasted the Government for the dismal conditions, calling it a “national emergency” and demanding that more money be set aside in the national budget to make improvements.

In a statement, the MAJ said the depressed state of public hospitals as detailed by the Observer was “sad” and “unacceptable”.

“The provision of good health care should be viewed by the Government as an investment in our citizens towards increased productivity and simply not as a cost to the country,” the MAJ argued.

The association said chronic underfunding and lagging changes to the public health-care sector are negatively affecting treatment outcomes for patients.

“This is compounded by the frustrating and demoralising conditions in which health professionals often provide this essential service,” the MAJ stated.

“Jamaica’s budget for public health service must be based on the health realities facing the country at this time,” the association said, asserting that stakeholders must act quickly to safeguard the health of Jamaicans. The medical group pointed out that the cost to patients and their families due to delays caused by the crippling inefficiencies in the system would soon be “incalculable”.

Yesterday, Dr Harvey said that the shortage of purple top tubes at the UHWI is a result of the supplier experiencing challenges, not a systemic shortage. “The supplier doesn’t have it,” he told the Observer, adding that another supplier is being sourced and that in the meantime, a small quantity will be delivered to the hospital.

He said that while the situation is regrettable, a support mechanism is being put in place for this particular issue, and that there are alternatives such as using another type of test to determine blood count.

Regarding the lack of equipment and maintenance problems across the system, Dr Harvey said that in addition to seeking more funds through the National Health Fund and the CHASE Fund, partnerships are being forged with the private sector for concessionary arrangements, which will allow patients to receive diagnostic and imaging services.

The elevator woes at the KPH are also to be addressed, according to Dr Harvey, who said that two units are already in the island to be installed at the hospital.

Meanwhile, president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA) Dr Alfred Dawes said the group has been quietly monitoring the situation “and realise that there is support for the reform of the health system”. He said the JMDA is looking at ways in which it can press the Government to implement the recommendations of the Davidson report, which has been languishing since 2007.

The 217-page report was submitted by a five-member task force, led by Dr Winston Davidson, which was appointed by Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson.

The report made recommendations for the overhauling and modernising of a health-care system fraught with customer dissatisfaction, and equipment breakdown, among other chronic problems.

Seven years later, the health sector is still hampered by much of the same issues, chief among them being shortage of equipment and poor customer service.


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