Gov't to add more beds for patients, but not enough staff to man themWednesday, February 24, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
WITH the island's health-care system now buckling under the weight of increased COVID-19 cases, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said additional bed spaces are being added but personnel to man those beds is the newest pickle.
“This as health-care workers are leaving the island in single file for more lucrative jobs abroad,” he said.
“We are adding, in effect, a significant number of additional beds to support the overflow that is taking place based on the just-over 370 COVID beds that we had in the system, that for us is an important response,but the other challenge having put in place the beds is the staffing, Dr Tufton said during a virtual briefing yesterday.
In the last week alone the country added 2,819 new cases with hospitalisations moving from 245 to 270. Consequently some 13 of 22 hospitals around the island are now at the red alert phase, which means they have a greater than 84 per cent occupancy level for their isolation capacity.
“There are other challenges there too but we are working to expand the staffing capacity; each regional health authority has been instructed to hire additional staff based on their needs assessment. The hiring of additional staff is extremely important,” Tufton said.
The staff shortages now being faced, he said, were not just because of expanded usage of staff, based on the new numbers of COVID cases, but also “because the mass recruitment of public health practitioners, and in particular our nurses by neighbours, has been increasing”.
The health minister said the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) has been particularly hard-hit.
“I enquired about the nursing shortage they have and one of the reasons given for the shortage was that between January of this year to date that institution has lost some 42 public health nurses working there who have migrated to other jurisdictions based on more attractive offers.
“We don't have a policy to restrict; labour is free to move but you can imagine it has placed significant additional strain on the UHWI and across the board, generally speaking,” the health minister noted.
“I want to encourage at this time all persons who qualify as nurses, specialist nurses and others who would like to join the public health team even on a temporary basis...to contact regional offices, that includes persons who have retired who still have the energy and the interest,” he said.
In the meantime, the minister in looking to increase the bed count in addition to the four field hospitals which are yet to be deployed but “are are very close to being deployed,” said Tufton. According to the minister, an additional 20 bed spaces are being created at the National Chest Hospital which had 36 COVID beds. At the UHWI an existing ward which contained 22 beds is being converted as an additional COVID ward. The UHWI was at capacity with 41 beds.
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