Doctors' demand for jobs outstrips available posts, says Tufton

Doctors' demand for jobs outstrips available posts, says Tufton

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

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DESPITE claims from the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association (JMDA) that junior doctors across the island are out of work due to budgetary constraints, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says there has been no reduction in established positions but rather that demand has outstripped available posts.

The Jamaica Observer reported on Sunday that on July 1, when the 2020 medical year began, more than 40 doctors across the various health regions were sent home after they reported to health centres and hospitals to assume their duties.

According to JMDA President Dr Elon Thompson, those affected are senior house officer (SHO) doctors who are seeking to transition to medical officer grade one (MO1) positions. Other doctors also shared that on their last contractual day, June 30, they were handed back their MO1 applications and told that no jobs were available. In this regard, permanent secretary in the health ministry Dunstan Bryan had explained that SHOs' transition to medical officers in the public health system is not automatic, but that they must be interviewed for available positions.

“None of the regions have been given any instructions to reduce the numbers. What seems to be a challenge is that the demands on these posts seem to have increased, in terms of numbers of medical officers who are now wanting to be retained. There have been a number of interviews done to fill the posts that are available, and some of those interviews have not yet fully been completed. So, there still will be some additional persons taken on [but] there would still be a gap between the numbers that are taken on and the numbers that have applied for these positions,” Dr Tufton told the Observer yesterday after a meeting with technical directors, regional directors, the chief medical officer, and Bryan.

In a press release issued Sunday, the Ministry of Health and Wellness stated that 92 doctors in the South East Regional Health Authority completed SHO duties on June 30.

A pool of these doctors were interviewed for medical officer positions and, to date, approval has been given for 24 of them to assume duties on or before July 14 on a replacement basis, the release said.

Employment of the other 68, Dr Tufton said, would have to take place in the context of available positions, which has to be approved by the Ministry of Finance.

“There is no cutback in those posts. If we are going to take more, we have to apply to get more posts. It's a conversation we need to have, given some of the changes in our 10-year strategic plan which looks at building out more capacity at the primary health care level [and] at the hospital level, where we are expanding hospital services with the IDB [Inter-American Development Bank] loan funding. That is going to require more capacity and there is a plan being developed along the medium- to longer-term strategic plan to deal with that, but this particular situation this year is not as a result of us reducing the numbers. It is a result more of greater demand on the system,” he said.

The health minister said, too, that the public health system has seen a low turnover rate for doctors coupled with more medical graduates from The University of the West Indies, for which the system does not have space.

“The take-up is being impacted by one, lower turnover — less persons leaving the posts that they're in; secondly, more training from the medical school — more doctors being trained; and thirdly, in this year in particular, less persons exercising the options to look at overseas engagement.

“This is anecdotal but we are suspecting COVID-19 has made some persons adjust their desires to travel. I think there may be some delays in the overseas exams, too. These are the exams you have to do to work in America or in the UK...So what we're faced with is a situation where there have been some changes in the dynamics which have led to less persons being engaged,” Dr Tufton said.

He reiterated that the delays being experienced by junior doctors are not due to budgetary constraints.

“This is not a result of budgetary constraints. The same established posts are able to be filled and are being filled, but there is a definite increased demand on the system...I have asked for an assessment to be done to determine whether or not we can fill any glaring gaps that may exist, but that has to be reconciled with the budgetary support to support that. That is, however, a very different thing than saying we have reduced our positions,” Dr Tufton said.

He added: “I don't want that to be confused at all that we are somehow reducing or have budgetary limitations and we are not hiring what we used to hire, because that's not the case. While it is true that we will look now to see how we can take advantage of this opportunity with more persons being available, it's a very different thing than saying that we have reduced our budget and, therefore, we have these limitations.”

The health minister is expected to meet with the JMDA today to discuss the employment issues.

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