Delays result in doctors out of work

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Delays result in doctors out of work

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 12, 2020

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THE Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA) is furious over delays in the employment of some of its members, which has left medical doctors sitting at home without work.

The JMDA told the Jamaica Observer that on July 1 when the 2020 medical year began, doctors were being turned away from health centres and hospitals when they showed up for work to assume their duties.

“Persons are being turned away when they go to take up their current, substantive post. What they are saying is they don't have any job positions for these persons. What they've been told is they're going to have to sit at home and wait for a supplemental budget where they can employ these people. There is a list that is supplied by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) regions. The list supplied to the office has the name of the persons who are supposed to be at work. So when persons turn up, their name is either on the list or not. That is how you assume your responsibility. You write an assumption letter that you have assumed duties and it is put in your file at HR. However, never before have I seen so many doctors being turned away,” said Dr Elon Thompson, JMDA president.

According to Dr Thompson, those affected are senior house officer (SHO) doctors who are seeking to transition to medical officer grade one (MO1) positions.

The JMDA president told the Sunday Observer he has received over 40 reports of doctors who are without jobs, but he expects the number to increase as members indicate that it is closer to 100 and reporting is being done in an ad hoc fashion.

“Persons are not saying this is happening because they are hopeful. [It is] not that they have a problem per se, it's just the way it was dealt with. Doctors are no better than anybody in this world, however, our responsibilities are one society sees as important. Ask a rich man, ask a poor man what they want to preserve and the answer is always going to come up — health. So if you have human resources taking care of health, why not invest in them? It just looks like you are not investing in health as you should. Literally, there are people turning up at health centres, hospitals, these places, and they are being turned back. I have never seen that in my 13 years of medical life,” the doctors' union president said.

But, one of the biggest issues for Dr Thompson is the lack of communication between the MOHW and the JMDA regarding the issue.

Dr Thompson explained that the applications for MO1 positions would have been submitted early in the year in order for a decision to be made before June 30, when the medical year ends, and July 1 when the medical year begins. However, Dr Thompson said apart from delays attributed to COVID-19, a common lacklustre approach has resulted in this problem.

“Every July 1 there is an issue in a system that has been ongoing. Our medical year starts July 1. Every year, same thing. This year it is dramatic because we have dramatic problems. Persons are turning up and being told they don't have any jobs. My year starts July 1. I've never got a contract to sign before it expires on June 30, and it is something that has to change. It speaks to job security. It speaks to professionalism on the part of the employer. With contractual workers, other companies in the private sector may have a discussion maybe two months before to let you know if they are going to take you back or not. Doctors are not at liberty, we don't have that kind of benefit. On our side, we're assuming we are going to have a job, somewhere, somehow and on the employer's side, it's just lax. We know COVID-19 caused some delays, but I am saying every July 1 there is an issue. There is an issue with assignments, whether it's late notice, or something else,” Dr Thompson said.

In addition, he said COVID-19 resulted in delays for intern placement which would have affected the SHOs, and now there seems to be no regard for them.

“The SHOs had to continue working because there were no interns yet, as exams were delayed and interns were delayed. Then now, SHOs who are supposed to be transitioning into MO1 positions are the ones being turned away. I had a very bright SHO working with, the best one I have ever worked with, and she is now sitting at home, unemployed because of this problem,” Dr Thompson said.

In relation to the issue of unemployment, a doctor from the Southern Regional Health Department told the Sunday Observer that administrators at her workplace told doctors that the Government has not allocated any funds to hire anybody new. Further, some of her colleagues seeking to move from SHO to Mo1 were handed back their applications without explanation.

“Applications to become a medical officer are normally submitted around May. The new contract year begins July 1, so upon enquiring June 30, which is the last contract day for the medical year, that's when they were informed by the region that said 'We should have called you last week, but we didn't. Here are your application forms.' The application forms were supposed to be distributed to other regions as there were no jobs in the region. Now we have a lot of doctors sitting down without any jobs and a lot of hospitals in need of these doctors. The manner in which it was done — where we were told on the last contractual day, which is June 30, that there were no jobs — was just tactless,” she said.

Subsequently, the JMDA penned a letter on Thursday to Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the MOHW, seeking an urgent meeting to address the lack of communication between the ministry, regional health authorities and the JMDA. In addition, the doctors want solutions regarding protocols and standards that govern how doctors are employed, as they say sometimes they get less than 48 hours' notice to report to work, which might be in remote areas.

“I hope we get a meeting and some semblance of where we are going to go, not only with this group now but how we can prevent this from happening next year and future years. Engage us early if there is a problem so we can [not only]sensitise our members, but also prepare. They know the doctors in the system. These are not new doctors coming into the system, they are just changing their role in the system. You are aware, doctors would have applied, and you accept them when they apply so you know the numbers. Why then is this a shocker? Why is it shocking the system? Why is it that we're hearing that there is no fiscal space to pay these doctors? Are you surprised they are still here? What's the plan?” Dr Thompson asked.

When the Sunday Observer contacted Bryan he said SHOs do not automatically become medical doctors and the issues raised were being resolved at the regional levels.

Bryan refuted claims of fiscal challenges and directives being issued by the MOHW to send home doctors, explaining that the MO1 is an established post which SHOs transition into every year. He said because of COVID-19, this year is seeing a delay in the transition.

On Friday the Sunday Observer was informed by Stephen Davidson, director of communications at the MOHW, that Dunstan would be meeting with the JMDA on Saturday (yesterday) to discuss the matter.


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