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Nurses forced to use their personal thermometers on hospital patients

Alicia Dunkley - Inside Parliament

Sunday, November 13, 2011    

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THE Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) is campaigning for a joint study to assess the level of patient satisfaction in the public health sector since the government removed user fees in 2007.

“We recommend that a joint study be done as it relates to patient satisfaction since the abolition of user fees in order to get a wider picture and the reality that we are facing, so that we do not appear to be biased when we are speaking to the issues,” NAJ President Antoinette Patterson told the Sessional Select Committee on Human Resources and Social Development of Parliament last week.

The call comes just over a month after Director of Policy in the Ministry of Health, Sandra Graham — making a presentation to the very same committee, said 95 per cent of persons surveyed by the Ministry of Health in five major hospitals across the island have given the quality of the health care services a passing grade.

That study also said 69 per cent of patients were satisfied with the availability of information in the facilities, while 75 per cent said they were impressed with the level of privacy. According to the study, 66 per cent were pleased with the physical facilities and the space in waiting areas.

In addition, 91 per cent of patients said they were satisfied with the doctors, 82 per cent said they were pleased with the nurses, and 92 per cent with the other medical staff.

But the NAJ, in presenting a litany of woes to the committee, said the situation on the ground was anything but pleasant.

“The Intensive Care Unit of the Kingston Public Hospital does not have enough ventilators because they are so overused and abused at times that we have three ventilators down.

“There are seven beds and there are times you cannot take seven patients. In the Accident and Emergency Department there is only one DINAMAP (blood pressure monitors) serving the 5,500 patients that go through that department and there are times when it is so tired, it decide it not giving any blood pressure reading,” First Vice President of the NAJ Sharon Brown-Brotherton told the committee.

She said nurses have had to “resort to even taking their personal thermometers to do temperatures”.

“Blood pressure machines, the basic commodities that we need to function as nurses and to function adequately, they are oh so lacking in our institutions. Nurses are taking their own sphygmomanometer (a device used to measure blood pressure) from home to do the work that the government is saying they have provided resources for,” Brown-Brotherton said.

In the meantime, she said despite the fact that a number of trained nurses are entering the system, the migration of experienced nurses because of the poor remuneration and other vexing issues was being ignored at the peril of persons using public health facilities.

“Remember they are beginner nurses, but where are your experts? They are gone. What we have now is a generation gap which is impacting on the level of care being administered in the institutions,” Brown-Brotherton stressed.

“If you only have novices it is going to impact the care that is given because these persons are coming fresh out of university. And when they come, where are the persons to mentor them to allow them to at least concretise what they have learnt in the institutions and to offer a better service,” she queried further.

The level of remuneration, she said, has also forced graduates to seek greener pastures. She told the Committee that on average, a nurse’s monthly student loan repayment is $52,000, with a “take-home salary” of $48,000 before tax.

Committee Chairman, the Opposition’s Dr Fenton Ferguson, who speculated that most nurses were delinquent borrowers said the committee would have to make recommendations to parliament in this respect.

“That’s kinda crazy. That will definitely have policy implications whether now or in the future,” Dr Ferguson, who is also Opposition Spokesperson on Health said.

“The cost of training a nurse now is just horrendous and the truth is they are borrowing student loans and they can’t pay back with the government salaries, they can’t service that loan and at the same time survive in terms of living,” he said further.

The nurses have, in the meantime compiled a wish list of items which, if supplied, could stop them “leaving the system in droves”.

That list includes: payment of a minimum salary equivalent to CARICOM partners or the international market; improved working conditions; review of the present “archaic” cadre of nurses, appointment of some of those who have “been working in hospitals for years without being appointed” and increased benefits such as housing solutions.

According to the NAJ president “more than 95 per cent of our nurses are without a house” and are not even qualified to own one.

“It is quite frightening,” she said.

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