Argument done!

Argument done!

Ferguson defends permanent secretary, but doctors agree to let bygones be bygones

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

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HEALTH Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson yesterday defended his permanent secretary, Dr Kevin Harvey, against what he called a personal attack from Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA) head Dr Alfred Dawes and told Parliament that Dr Dawes, had committed to making a public apology to Dr Harvey.

But last night, it appeared that Ferguson was one step behind both men as Dr Dawes told the Jamaica Observer that he and Dr Harvey had moved beyond their quarrel in an effort to solve the problems plaguing the public health sector.

"Dr Harvey and I had a heart-to-heart talk yesterday (Monday) as two grown men. We decided that we're going to let bygones be bygones and work together for the good of the Jamaican people," Dr Dawes told the Observer in response to Dr Ferguson's statement in the House of Representatives.

Dr Harvey and Dr Dawes have been make claims and counter-claims since the weekend over the work of the task force set up by the Government to oversee the improvement of the overall quality of the country's health care system, including the implementation of a shift system for doctors.

Dr Dawes had accused Dr Harvey of "misrepresenting the facts" and questioned his role on the task force, citing absenteeism. "We are also unclear of the role of Dr Harvey on the task force as he has been present or tendered apologies for absence for the meetings held. It appears... that the task force was mainly convened to rubber-stamp a plan to implement the shift system," Dr Dawes said in a release on Monday. He also questioned the absence of representatives from the nursing and paramedical services, given the severe challenges with medical supplies in hospitals and clinics.

In a release on Friday, following a press conference where Dr Dawes painted a shocking picture of insanitary conditions in the island's public hospitals, Dr Harvey assured that there would be a marked increase in the number of physicians graduating from local and international universities, suggesting that this would ease the staffing issues about which the JMDA has repeatedly raised concerns.

But Dr Dawes dismissed the statement as misleading, pointing out that these graduates were not ready to hit the ground on their own. "These interns are trainees who are not fully qualified. They cannot write prescriptions or manage patients without supervision. They are employed to be further trained prior to being qualified for full registration as a medical doctor," he stressed.

Yesterday, as the war of words cooled off, the health minister noted that Dr Dawes had, on Monday, issued a personal apology to Dr Harvey at a meeting involving all the medical groups, and had committed to making a public apology yesterday.

"We do not condone personal attacks on individuals without any evidence to support the claims being made, and as such I want to take this opportunity to reconfirm my confidence in the support currently being provided by my permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health," Ferguson told the House in his sectoral debate presentation.

In the meantime, the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) said yesterday that coming out of Monday's meeting, the ministry and the JMDA had reaffirmed their commitment to improving the health care system. "The association would like to allow both the leadership of the Ministry of Health and the JMDA time to further consider proposals made during that meeting. It is hoped that formal discussions on health reform will resume with the now improved understanding between all parties," the MAJ said.

Dr Dawes and other medical doctors on Friday gave grim details of the conditions in hospitals, including flies in operating theatres; having to reuse single-use instruments; machines that give inaccurate readings; and lack of appropriate surgical masks and gowns, among a host of other inefficiencies. The doctors said conditions in the public health facilities pose grave risk to patients and medical staff.

Yesterday, Ferguson told the House that he had already asked regional health authorities to carry out comprehensive audits of major hospitals and health centres to "determine the availability of supplies and the challenges being faced in ensuring adequate supply chain management". He said, following this assessment, shortfalls would be addressed by the provision of additional resources provided for pharmaceuticals and sundries in this year's budget.

In the meantime, the health minister said he would be meeting with the doctors and their professional groups as well as other sectors to "ensure that any plan we develop will be done with the input of those working in the sector as well as our international support team such as PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), WHO (World Health Organisation) and others".

At the same time, Ferguson assured that there would be no implementation of a shift system for doctors until the task force set up to examine the delivery of medical care, including the way doctors practise, has finished its work.

Yesterday, Dr Dawes insisted that the terms of reference of the task force must be clear and that the task force must not have a pre-determined outcome.

"We want our proposals to be considered fairly and the recommendations of the task force, be it shift system or not, be seriously considered and not just ignored," he told the Observer.

The doctors have staunchly opposed the implementation of a shift system, which is slated to begin July 1, threatening a shutdown of the public health care system if the Ministry of Health goes ahead with the plan. The JMDA had also threatened to withdraw from the task force, and that only emergency care would be guaranteed at public health facilities.

The shift system, which is supposed to improve efficiency, would result in less pay for doctors, the JMDA contended.

-- Additional reporting by Kimberley Hibbert

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