Doctors are sick of it!

Medics unstable over Health Minister's failure to appoint Council

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 01, 2019

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DOCTORS are in perplexed mode following what they describe as the inaction of Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Chris Tufton to prescribe a timetable for the reappointment of the powerful Medical Council of Jamaica.

The Council has regulatory oversight of the practice of medicine in Jamaica, but none has been in place since August when the life of the last council ended. Protecting the public by regulating the terms and conditions by which medicine is practised across Jamaica is part of the council's primary focus.

Under the arrangements, the professional members of the medical fraternity nominates eight of the 15 members of the council. There are two ex-officio members — the Chief Medical Officer, now Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, or her deputy — and the Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, who is Dr Tomlin Paul.

The Minister of Health and Wellness is directly responsible for naming two registered medical practitioners, in addition to three 'lay' persons, one chosen by him, another picked by him from a list of three nominated by the Medical Association of Jamaica, and the other also by him from another list of three nominated by the 10 medical practitioners on the council, and the two ex-officio members.

The life of the Council is three years.

While the eight names elected by the various medical groups have been submitted to Dr Tufton, the wait has been getting longer and longer for the other five under his column to be named.

Long-standing chairman of the Medical Council of Jamaica, Dr John Hall, had indicated that he did not wish to be considered to sit on the council for another year, thus ruling him out as chairman for another term. The chairman of the Council is selected from the eight members chosen directly by the profession through a process of voting.

The Jamaica Observer understands that among those chosen by the medical profession is Dr Winston De la Haye, the former Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health, who it is believed has a less than cordial relationship with Dr Tufton. Others are foremost Caribbean reconstructive surgeon, Dr Guyan Arscott; consultant surgeon Dr Ray Fraser; consultant cardiologist Dr Edwin Tulloch Reid; psychiatrist Dr Earl Wright; internal medicine specialist and pulmonologist Dr Althea Aquart Stewart; Dr Milton Hardie, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist; and popular urologist and head of the urology unit at the University Hospital of the West Indies, Dr William Aiken.

Dr Aiken tweeted about the situation last week: “The Medical Council of Jamaica that provides regulatory oversight of the medical profession has been without a board for the past four months. This cannot augur well for the practice of medicine in Jamaica.”

All eight names were submitted to Dr Tufton in September to be ratified, a source close to the Medical Association of Jamaica told the Sunday Observer.

Apart from having oversight responsibility for the medical sector, the council is responsible for the conduct of all doctors in Jamaica, and can, among other things, charge, censor and de-list practitioners.

Interestingly, a licensing procedure of all doctors that would allow them to practise next year must be completed by December 31 this year, but that has been stalled. If the council is not active before then it would mean that doctors without certification are not legally allowed to see patients.

“CAMC exams for doctors are due and that too falls under the guidance and management of the Medical Council,” one doctor stated. “I cannot understand this, there is no medical council; picture Parliament ... what would happen if our parliamentarians did not meet for four months? How would the business of the country be conducted? It's the same thing as the medical council. The minister needs to act now,” the doctor said.

The CAMC exam, also abbreviated CAMCE, is the Caribbean Association of Medical Councils Registration examination, which includes fulfilling the requirements in the major disciplines of medicine, among them obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatric medicine, internal medicine, and general surgery.

“No doctor can practise in Jamaica without the vetting of the Medical Council of Jamaica. Every year doctors have to get practising certificates,” the medical practitioner said.

The Medical Council of Jamaica on its website under the authorship of Registrar, Professor Howard W Spencer, said that under the Medical Act of Jamaica, the council is required to:

“Register medical practitioners;

“Set the required standard and hours of Continuing Medical Education (CME's). This will then be the requirement for issuing of Annual Practising Certificates;

and

“Ensure the maintenance of proper standards of professional conduct by registered medical practitioners.”

According to the council, it keeps “an updated Medical Register of all medical practitioners licensed to practice across Jamaica. This register helps the general public to distinguish between qualified and unqualified practitioners. No person is regarded as legally qualified to practice medicine in Jamaica unless his or her name appears on the most recent list of this register, and he/she is in possession of a current practising certificate.

“Applications for registration include provisional and locum provisional registrations for newly qualified doctors or in the case of the latter doctors requiring a recognised period prior to being allowed to take the Caribbean Association of Medical Councils examination. The period of internship is normally one (1) year. Special registration which is temporary registration is also given for varying periods to practitioners whose qualifications are not acceptable for full registration and whose practice must be under the supervision of the medical officer of health for the region within which they practise.

“Proper investigation and due diligence must be done on all applicants. In keeping with the Amendments of the Medical Act (1996, 2004) the Council also has duty to issue a practising certificate annually to a registered medical practitioner if the Council is satisfied that the practitioner has complied with prescribed requirements for continuing medical education (CME) and has paid the appropriate renewal fee.

“The primary duty of the Medical Council is to protect the public by regulating the conditions of medical practice across Jamaica. The Council therefore has the duty to investigate appropriately when any alleged case of professional misconduct by a medical practitioner is reported. This may necessitate a formal enquiry with associated lawyers, and also the services of a court stenographer for accurate record of the proceedings. Disciplinary action will follow if appropriate,” the information on the website stated.

Professor Spencer confirmed to the Sunday Observer that the life of the council had ended, but said he did not know specifically what was causing the delay.

“There is an election process for eight members, then that goes to the Minister of Health who then names his representatives. The Minister then takes it to Cabinet for approval. It may be taking longer than usual, but there is a process and that's the process that it has to go through,” Professor Spencer said.

Dr Tufton told the Sunday Observer on Friday that efforts were being made to get the work of the Council going.

“The delays have been more internal ministry administrative-related, and it's something we have to deal with. It will go before Cabinet on Monday, hopefully, and I'm expecting it to be addressed within the next few weeks. It's unfortunate that it has not happened yet, but that's the reality,” Dr Tufton said.


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