Dr Christopher Tufton speaks about the infrastructural upgrades that will be made to the Spanish Town Hospital.

HEALTH-CARE workers across the island are complaining of shortage in supplies at hospitals, blaming the scarcity and lack on the health ministry's payment arrears with hospital suppliers.

Workers who spoke with the Jamaica Observer said items in short supply include toilet paper, syringes, blood tubes, personal protective equipment (PPE), bed rolls, gowns, antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (antacids), and prostate medication.

One health-care worker said red, purple, and blue top blood tubes, which are critical to the functioning of any health-care facility, are also short.

“Red is for blood chemistry proxy of kidney or liver function blood glucose levels, crossmatched to determine blood group, HIV test, and syphilis tests to name a few of its functions for the red top tubes. Blue is for PT [prothrombin time], PTT [partial thromboplastin time], and INR [international normalised ratio], which assess likelihood of a patient bleeding or forming clots. Purple top tubes are for complete blood count, blood film, and CD4 count levels in HIV — those are some of its uses. Without them it impedes a lot of our work,” the health-care worker said.

Another health-care worker said the shortages have been ongoing but, if continued, it would severely hamper the fight against a possible fourth wave of COVID-19 and managing the Omicron variant, should it get to our shores.

Further, one health-care worker at the management level said the shortages are due to the lack of payment to suppliers that are owed millions by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

One supplier who spoke to the Observer on the condition of anonymity said despite budgetary allocations being made to pay debts, the ministry owes them millions for over a year to the point they have had to stop supplying disposables to the sector.

“You can't be owing me money at 90, 120 days, one year and there is no interest. It puts me under pressure and the tax department comes down on you when you owe money and threaten to take you to court. It's really horrible,” the supplier said.

Another supplier was also mum for fear of losing the contract with the health ministry, but said that the company was owed a very significant amount of money, in the millions.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, in responding to the claims at yesterday's Jamaica Observer Press Club held at the Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, said from time to time there are payment issues with suppliers, which is something the ministry has to admit and accept. He, however, said they try not to go beyond the 90-day credit period.

“We try to ensure the 60 to 90 days is the maximum wait if there are no discrepancies in payments. Bear in mind that payment takes place at different levels. There are payments done at the regional level, the ministry level, and payments that are done at the agency level like National Health Fund (NHF), depending on what is being procured,” Dr Tufton said.

The health minister said payment arrears are usually due to budgeting and cash flow issues.

“When that occurs we try to resolve them, but I'll be the first to say from time to time we do run into that issue when payments are in arrears up to 90 days and beyond that. [But] we try to keep it within that 60 to 90 day period, and if it gets out of that we try to move in and resolve it as quick as possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Tufton said he would not place the blame of shortages solely on the lack of payment.

“The periodic shortage of any particular item could be due to many things, so I am not challenging a particular case that may arise where they might not have an N95 mask or they are running low. The efficient delivery of supplies is a function of not just procuring it. It is also the logistics management of the supplies. NHF plays a big role and the hospitals play a big role,” he said.

Tufton added: “Generally speaking, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind the Government has provided the resources when needed to purchase the critical supplies for COVID, whether it is PPE, sanitisers, ventilators. To the extent that any particular hospital or doctor is out, it would normally be a case of managing the situation. What we would ask them to do is to report that to the respective authorities at the institutional level. If it needs to be elevated I am sure their organised groups, associations will elevate that further up. When that happens — as you can see in the past — we're very responsive, we listen. I don't think anybody can doubt that we listen. We listen and we try to resolve and we've had several incidents of tensions if you will, between perceptions and reality and we've tried to meet and iron it out whether it is with the nurses, doctors, or otherwise. We will continue to take that posture as it will require all of us to make it work.”

Health minister Dr Christopher Tufton showcases plans forthe Greater Portmore Health Centre. In the background is thearchitectural model of what Spanish Town Hospital will be upgradedto look like. He was addressing yesterday's Jamaica ObserverPress Club at the Pegasus hotel.
TUFTON...From time-to-timethere are payment issues withsuppliers, which is somethingthe ministry has to admit andaccept (Photos: Jason Tulloch)
BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT Associate editor - news/health hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

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