KINGSTON –– The Ministry of Health’s chief accounting officer Dr Kevin Harvey yesterday said that a submission had been made to the Ministry of Finance for an increase in budgetary allocation in the new fiscal year to address problems in the sector, including proper maintenance of equipment, which doctors have described as a “national emergency”.
Harvey, the permanent secretary in the ministry, also said that efforts were being made through the National Health Fund and the CHASE Fund to acquire equipment. 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 that exposed the conditions under which they worked 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 had 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 were not appropriate for surgery. Another doctor at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) said that there were no purple top tubes, which are used to check blood count, neither were 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 were 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 were negatively affecting treatment outcomes for patients.
“This is compounded by the frustrating and demoralizing 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, Harvey said that the shortage of purple top tubes at the UHWI was 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 was being sourced and that in the meantime, a small quantity would be delivered to the hospital.
He said that while the situation was regrettable, a support mechanism was being put in place for this particular issue, and that there were alternatives such as using another type of test to determine blood count.
Regarding the lack of equipment and maintenance problems across the system, Harvey said that in addition to seeking more funds through the National Health Fund and the CHASE Fund, partnerships were being forged with the private sector for concessionary arrangements, which would allow patients to receive diagnostic and imaging services.
The elevator woes at the KPH are also to be addressed, according to Harvey, who said two units were 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 had been quietly monitoring the situation “and realize 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 Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson.
The report made recommendations for the overhauling and modernizing 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.