Health system meeting demands, despite challenges, Tufton insists

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday insisted that the public health system is meeting the demands of Jamaicans, despite challenges which, he said, are being addressed.

At the same time, Tufton appealed to health professions for their support, arguing that the provision of public health care is a team effort.

He said that last year, doctors, nurses, administrative staff and other support personnel in the health sector handled 2,879,288 visits to public health facilities.

“We also had 187,801 admissions for care, conducted 40,477 operations and assisted in the delivery of 32,890 babies — in addition to providing 380,164 diagnostic imagining services and 8,356,990 laboratory tests,” Dr Tufton said.

The minister was responding to a series of stories carried by the Jamaica Observer last week reporting on complaints of sexual harassment and abuse made by junior doctors against their seniors, lack of resources and allegations of poor management of the health system made by the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association (JMDA).

In addition, the heads of the JMDA and the Association of General Medical Consultants have alleged that they are not being told by Tufton or the Cornwall Regional Hospital Oversight Committee about the status of redevelopment work at the hospital in Montego Bay.

Operations at Cornwall Regional Hospital were shifted to other hospitals and health facilities last year after toxic fumes began affecting medical staff and patients. Infrastructural defects were also found in the building.

Following is the full text of Tufton's statement.

Earlier this year, I announced a suite of interventions to fulfil a wellness agenda for Jamaica, designed to set us well on our way to ensuring healthy lives and the promotion of well-being for all, at all ages.

However, it is impossible to realise that end without the support of key stakeholders, including our doctors. The truth is, the provision of public health care is a team effort and, as has been said, 'the strength of the team is each member; and the strength of each member is the team'.

At the Ministry of Health and Wellness we are keen on safeguarding the strength of the team — from our doctors to our nurses, administrative staff and other support personnel.

It is to the credit of these people that we were able last year to handle 2,879,288 visits to public health facilities. We also had 187,801 admissions for care, conducted 40,477 operations and assisted in the delivery of 32,890 babies; in addition to providing 380,164 diagnostic imagining services and 8,356,990 laboratory tests.

It means that the public health system, despite prevailing challenges, continues to meet the needs of Jamaicans. We must, therefore, guard against the temptation to condemn the entire system, even as we field complaints from our various stakeholders.

Meanwhile, recent reports of challenges facing junior doctors serve as fuel for a review of existing operational procedures in the system and stimulus to fast-track interventions.

They include revamping primary health care to reflect a new model — one that improves access to providers with the offer of more preventive and curative services and longer opening hours, together with an increased staff complement.

We are also re-examining staff allocations in the secondary care system, which is currently served by some 269 interns and 137 senior house officers, together with 364 senior doctors, including consultants and senior residents. We want, as appropriate, to boost those numbers while at the same time to review provisions for compensation.

Ensuring human resources for health in sufficient numbers and competencies across the system is an important area of focus for the ministry, as reflected in our 10-year strategic plan 2019-2030. There is little wonder why: there can be no health system without health professionals and workers.

Already, Pan American Health Organisation and Dalhousie University analysis has revealed that for Jamaica, the human resources for health challenges are workforce planning; education and training; deployment and utilisation; recruitment and retention; and management and leadership.

Faced with the changing health needs of our population, together with the challenges of the health workforce, we have no choice but to respond, ensuring appropriate supply and distribution of our health workers, including our doctors; as well as improved health worker performance; and effective and coordinated human resources planning, management and development across the system.

To make it happen, as reflected in the strategic plan, the intention is, among other things, to employ a technical team to finalise the preparation of the Career Development and Promotional Plan, as well as to prepare and implement an Employee Climate Survey to update and better understand workers' needs and motivations.

It is no secret that the public health system is in need of equipment and infrastructure improvements to boost staff morale and their capacity to deliver care and to ensure the best possible health outcomes for patients.

The planned multi-billion-dollar infrastructure upgrades at hospitals and health centres; the formulation of centres of excellence for oncology, nephrology, cardiac, neurology and mental illness; and the billion-dollar expansion of the Waiting Time Initiative to reduce patient wait for surgeries and enhance access to and the number of social cases are intended to achieve those ends.

These are in addition to the ongoing roll-out of the compassionate care programme, which prioritises citizen-focused care, while also taking stock of the needs of health-care providers. It is the reason that we have so far seen the training of more than 1,000 workers in customer service and physical improvements at more than eight facilities.

Of course, these planned interventions cannot be achieved overnight, even with our commitment to accelerate progress towards finalisation and in the best interest of all stakeholders, including our more than 1,900 doctors. Still, the public can be assured that we are working.


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