OPPOSITION spokesman on health Dr Morais Guy says inadequate theatre facilities in hospitals will be the Achilles heel of the Government's CODE CARE programme, under which nurses from the diaspora will be imported to ease the backlog of elective surgeries which have been on hold since 2020.
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told Parliament last month that CODE CARE will seek to do an additional 1,000 surgeries over the next 10 months to clear up most, if not all backlogs created by the suspensions.
But Dr Guy, speaking with the Jamaica Observer, charged that the state of the infrastructure and hospital equipment will stymie the effort.
"I am doing some research and the challenges we are having is not just shortage of nursing staff to deal with the backlog of the surgeries, but it also centres around the capacity of the system to deal with the shortages. When you look at some hospitals, they have a particular number of operating theatres that exist on book but not all of them are in operation and some of them that are in operation do not have a post-surgical recovery area to deal with patients after the surgery," Dr Guy said.
"For example, the Kingston Public Hospital has four operating rooms. There is no maintenance of the equipment. When you think of the Spanish Town Hospital, for example, there is concern about the condition of the operating theatre. This particular issue in terms of inadequacy of theatres exists at all the hospitals; so to get all of these nurses to come down and help but you don't have the facilities to be able to do the surgeries," Guy said.
The health ministry, he stated, has been misguided as to the true situation on the ground and could stand to lose.
"I don't think, quite frankly, the ministry has worked on the exact or interrogated what exists on the ground before they have gone on this mission. I think they are putting the cart before the horse and I shudder to think that you may be spending money in a good effort to clear the backlog of cases but not be able to clear them when you have to spend for the nurses to come in, they get a stipend, and they get accommodation," he stated.
Commenting on the minister's promises of a $300-million spend on repairs to, and maintenance of operating theatres to have them run more efficiently and for longer hours, Dr Guys said, "you can always announce a $300-million spend, the question is when is it going to be spent? Is it going to spent prior to these people coming into the system?
"It is always good to make an announcement but there are no announcements with timelines, that doesn't work in terms of transparency and good governance."
Said Guy: "The issues I raised in my sectoral presentation regarding CODE CARE is that the Government ought to be careful in not reinventing a wheel that proves deleterious in the long run as was the case in Trinidad and Tobago and the UK when they tried this to clear their backlog. I urged the minister to look at these cases, and elsewhere so we don't make the same mistake. We have enough doctors in the service for the backlog."
In the meantime, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), Dr Brian James, said the communication about the programme and its components might also be another fly in the ointment for the health ministry.
"We have been talking to our members and we have been canvassing their opinion on this matter and it's a mixed bag. A number of the major players and major hospitals have indicated that they were contacted, a lot of them have said that they are uncertain about some of the details; some of them have said they were not briefed about the details, so it is a bit of a mixed bag but there was clearly an effort to at least talk to some of the person in terms of the hospitals," he told the Observer.
He was, however, of the opinion that the injection of manpower was not all that is required.
"If that was the only component of it, it clearly wouldn't be the fix at all. Some people have indicated that personnel is a problem along with the other things. Infrastructure problems exist, equipment problems, personnel problems, and support system problems. For example, we must have blood and blood products and so on in reserve before you can do surgeries. So, all of those things would have to be part of the fix along with addressing the human resource problems that they are saying they would be addressing by going overseas and getting people," the MAJ head ssaid
"The CODE CARE does involve fixes to some of the infrastructure and equipment problems. So...I think much of the differences that exist could be fixed through proper communication, which might be the weakness that we are identifying [as] the communication part of the programme is probably not strong enough," he added.