MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton is warning the country to brace for significant delays at hospitals as the fourth COVID-19 wave reduces the availability of staff.
“The rapid spread of the wave is not just impacting citizens who need support within the hospital system, it is also impacting service delivery in terms of our health-care workers – administrators, nurses, doctors. We are finding that there is a significant impact on them, and as a consequence we are short-staffed for the most part,” said Tufton during a media briefing at Mandeville Regional Hospital on Saturday.
According to Tufton, the absence of staff has become a major burden on the health sector.
“The preliminary reports that I am getting is [that] we are seeing up to 10 per cent in some instances, sometimes more, of staff [who] would normally be engaged in providing services, not being able to because they are in isolation,” said Tufton.
“It has placed a major burden on the ability of our system to respond and to probably provide the kind of care,” added Tufton as he noted that hospitals will now have to prioritise patients for health care.
“We are still in full flight with the virus. The epidemiology suggests that another two to three weeks of this means that Mandeville Hospital is likely to be overwhelmed in the coming week in terms of bed space,” explained Tufton.
The health minister said people should expect delays at hospitals, which will have to convert wards to accommodate COVID-19-positive patients.
“We cannot take what is happening lightly because once we become overwhelmed it means that people are going to have to wait and wait for essential services like hospital care…” declared Tufton.
He said, when dissected, the percentage of affected staff is high among nurses and doctors.
“When you do that you realise that the problem becomes more acute because what is happening is that there is an unusually higher percentage within that overall number linked to nurses who are affected and to doctors who are affected,” he said.
Tufton pointed out that, at Bustamante Hospital for Children, about 60 health-care workers did not turn up for work up to Friday because of the virus.
“Of the 130 doctors working at that facility nearly 30 of them had COVID, and I believe that is what is happening as it relates to the nurses here at Mandeville Hospital. Of the 47 impacted [staff] the majority of those are nurses,” noted Tufton.
He said meetings are scheduled for this week with medical staff associations, including the Junior Medical Doctors' Association (JMDA), which on Saturday noted that a number of junior doctors are in isolation or quarantine due to a high level of exposure from caring for patients with COVID-19.
The JMDA said its members who are still on the job are getting sick or suffering from burnout.
“It is impractical for us to be expected to run clinics, wards, operating theatres, and all emergency units on a vastly reduced staff cohort,” said the JMDA as it called for all health facilities to be operated in emergency mode.
In accepting the pressure being placed on health workers and the need for talks, Tufton said: “That conversation is going to be [about] the impact on our junior doctors and our nurses as a response to COVID and the fact that they have to be carrying a lot more of the burden because their own membership is under stress,” he said.
Tufton underscored the problem the island is facing with the Omicron strain of the novel coronavirus as he pointed to Friday's record 68.6 per cent positivity rate.
“We have never seen that nearing the two years of COVID. Really what that means is that every other person and more, wherever you are, where two or three are gathered together, COVID is in the midst,” said Tufton as he appealed for extra vigilance by the public.
“It really requires us to be extra careful wherever we are and, certainly during this period, [to] discourage gatherings. I certainly wouldn't encourage people, over the next few weeks, to congregate unnecessarily,” Tufton added.
In another plea to Jamaicans to get vaccinated, Tufton noted that so far 22 per cent of the population have taken the jab and warned that, at this level, the number of positive people requiring hospitalisation will increase.
“The levels of vaccination that we have ensures that the most vulnerable percentage of the population, who are not vaccinated, in particular, are going to be impacted most, and many of these people are going to end up in the hospital system,” said Tufton, who pointed out the Government has already made it clear that there will be no further lockdowns and no halting of face-to-face classes.
On Sunday the Ministry of Health and Wellness reported a record high of 1,968 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, January 15, with a positivity rate of 31.7 per cent.