Hear the doctors' cry
The problems we are grappling with in Jamaica continue to mount as the pressure on the Government to repay the debt and stabilise the economy builds. Unfortunately, it is the poor who stand to suffer the most.
Exacerbating the situation is the poor manner in which health care is delivered at our public hospitals. While the patients, who are mainly poor, suffer a great deal of discomfort in accessing public health care, what I really want to highlight is that our doctors also have their fair share of burdens to bear.
It is often said that 'encouragement sweetens labour', but our doctors are not encouraged by the state of affairs in the public health sector. Among the various issues that doctors working in the public system face are a lack of medical equipment and inadequate space to treat the sick, all compounded by the matter of low salaries.
Many of our doctors are becoming more and more discontented with the compensation package for their arduous labour. In one doctor's lamentation, the medical practitioner said: "I'm not really happy...because I work so hard...and all 'they' can think about is the IMF. But the administrators mustn't get pay cuts, only doctors and nurses, and we are paid very little contrary to what people think. We have it hard. We cannot live off our basic salary. Instead of working 40 hours per week, we work 80. Our overtime pay is not 1.5 or double time, it's 1.15."
It is widely believed that medical doctors are well off and we have high expectations of them. But we often ignore what they are really being given in return. The reality is, many of our doctors work very long hours, sometimes with no break, and they are expected to be at the hospital to treat the sick at any given time of day. We ignore the fact that doctors are human and when they work for 48 hours or more — non-stop — they are more like zombies, the quality of care diminishes, and they end up being the ones needing help. Money can't buy back lost hours of sleep, but it sure can encourage labour. So why not pay them for what it's worth?
Another frightening fact is that if the doctors, feeling mistreated, decide to take action, a sick-out for example, they run the risk of their basic salaries being withheld. Furthermore, they have been banned from speaking publicly about their grouses or face a lawsuit. One is left to wonder if this is the type of democracy we ought to take pride in. If we look close enough, freedom of speech and expression is inconspicuously being stifled.
That doctors in the Montego Bay area are increasingly becoming targets of hoodlums only rubs salt into the wound. The same doctor who would run at a moment's notice, sometimes in the middle of the night, to respond to a 'code blue' call to help save a wounded gunman ends up, at times, being the victim.
Many of our doctors are disgruntled and the bitterness is trending upwards. But, despite the inauspicious conditions, when all is said and done, some will continue to give their unreserved best out of the goodness of their hearts. We shouldn't, however, abuse them.