Doctors angry - Some say Shaw sending wrong signal

Some say Shaw sending wrong signal in treating daughter overseas

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large

Monday, October 04, 2010

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SOME Jamaican doctors are fuming over the decision by finance and the public service minister Audley Shaw to make provisions for his sick, young daughter to be treated overseas.

Shaw, in a statement issued Saturday and carried by the Sunday Observer following the publishing of an article in the Sunday Herald about his purchase of a house in the United States, said that he had to do so in order to facilitate the treatment of his Florida-born daughter, Kristina, aged one year and four months.

However, doctors with whom the Observer spoke, lamented that Shaw and his administration had made several promises to improve local health care, but jumped at the opportunity to seek medical care for his family overseas, thereby sending a message that conditions here were not good enough.

"Kristina was born three months premature, weighing 1 1/4 pounds. Her chances of survival were considered to be very slim," Shaw said in the statement.

"She had to be placed on a life support machine because her vital organs were underdeveloped. She was hospitalised in the intensive care unit for 5 1/2 months. Her medical programme requires monthly and bi-monthly visits to her pulmonologist, neurologist, cardiologist, opthalmologist, gastroenterologist, physiotherapist, endocrinologist as well as speech and occupational therapists," Shaw said.

The finance minister also said that he bought the house to "ensure peace of mind" for his family, even as he continues to serve his constituency and country.

The Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), which represents all doctors islandwide, said that it was another blow to the health sector that Shaw's daughter could not receive treatment here.

"It is unfortunate," president of the Medical Association of Jamaica Dr Winston De La Haye told the Observer.

"I have nothing against Minister Shaw, and recently we saw where another minister went overseas to treat an internal problem. It is clear that there is a lack of faith in our system. It is by no means a lack of competence on our part," Dr Dela Haye said, adding that the lack of infrastructure, supplies and equipment was severely affecting the public health system.

The implementation of the user fee system, whereby patients are not required to pay for most services offered at public hospitals, had severely set back the sector, the MAJ president said.

"its very unfortunate. These are ministers who we voted in. We can't say that we are satisfied with the health care system. We have asked the minister to bring all stakeholders to a meeting to address this poorly thought through and even more poorly implemented user fee system," Dr De La Haye said.

Other doctors, who declined to be named because they fear reprisals, said that Shaw could have received the same treatment for his daughter if he decided to go the local route.

"I know that we are short on some equipment, but we have catered to babies born premature over the years and we have had success," one Kingston-based gynaecologist said.

"We have limited facilities here for rehabilitation of premature babies. The neo-natal intensive care facilities are limited, and therefore there is a high mortality rate for this group of babies, but we have managed to work with the system that is in place," said another from the same public institution.

"The minister's statement is disrespectful to doctors. We have worked tirelessly in a system that the politicians have neglected. We have been asking for support to acquire much-needed equipment over the years, but this has not come. So the rich, the priviliged and the politicians run overseas when something goes wrong and leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves," a rural Jamaica-based obstetrician and gynaecologist said.

President of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association Dr Shane Alexis also had reservations about Shaw's decision to seek treatment overseas for his daughter, but said that it was his right.

"We don't know the specifics of the case but my position is that any individual has the right to determine where he wants to seek medical attention," Dr Alexis said in an interview.

"From where I stand, I'd like to know that we have a standard of health care that is equal to the top nations.

"When Minister (Dwight) Nelson got sick last year, the feeling was that there would be more experience overseas and he took that option and went overseas for treatment. When ministers seek attention abroad, it is telling. It gives reassurance to us when those who develop the policy are able to make use of it and if we are going to have a policy, let's ensure that we have the resources to make it work.

"Are we putting enough resources into making health care enough of a priority," said Dr Alexis, whose organisation represents doctors below the level of consultants.

Opposition spokesman on health Dr Fenton Ferguson said that he sympathised with his Parliamentary colleague, but underscored the need to improve Jamaica's health care.

"Its one of those sensitive cases and I am not going to criticise Minister Shaw, but Jamaica's health system needs more fixing to allow for whether you are uptown or downtown you should have access to quality health care," Dr Ferguson said.

"In terms of our political leaders, when they or their families go overseas for medical treatment, it gives a no- confidence to some persons that the system is not capable. Many of the things that we seek attention for overseas can be taken care of here.

"Leaders on both sides of the political fence, past and present, have pursued treatment overseas, when they could have got similar care in Jamaica.

"We need to fix the system and reach a point where we can establish centres of excellence in health care, to attract people from overseas, as part of a major health tourism plan," said Dr Ferguson, a dental surgeon.

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