FREEPORT, St James — Describing the lengthy wait some patients in need of surgery have to face as inhumane, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton says there is a need to look at how resources are allocated within Jamaica's health-care system.
He was referring to the backlog created by the novel coronavirus pandemic which he said had left, up to four months ago, about 7,000 surgeries waiting to be done. Some of them, he said, had been delayed by more than two years.
"It is inhumane and I am prepared to say that because we have to face the facts as they are. It is inhumane. It is cruel and it is something that certainly in a public space we do not desire, certainly as minister. We do not wish that on anybody and it is just a matter of how resources have to be reprioritised over time," Tufton said.
He was speaking last Friday during the signing of an agreement that will see four private health facilities in western Jamaica contracted to help clear the backlog of surgeries. Under the $70-million pilot CODE CARE initiative, Montego Bay Hospital and Urology Centre Hospiten, GWEST and Baywest Hospital will work on clearing 590 overdue surgeries within the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA).
Tufton believes it will be money well-spent.
"We have negotiated some prices. I was told that this procedure will cost about $70 million between now and the end of the year. Based on your market rates, there should be a savings of about $40 million or so, based on what we have negotiated," he said.
"In terms of value for money. I think it's a good deal to start with, because we're not paying the full market rate. Which means that the players, the stakeholders who have come on-board, have demonstrated some understanding of what the circumstances and the context is, which is a good thing. But, I further say that it is also about the suffering. And you cannot put a price on that. We are trying to address people's suffering and get them back to normal. So, it is worth the expenditure even from that perspective," added Tufton.
Surgeries will be performed based on the length of time the patient has been waiting.
According to clinical coordinator for the WRHA Dr Delroy Fray, the backlog in cases has had a crippling effect of those in need of surgery, and it also has an economic cost for the country as many those waiting for medical care are unable to work.
"We have a backlog of what we call elective cases: hernias, prostate surgery, men with catheter and ladies requiring hysterectomy. Most of the complaints that we are having from these patients… they tend to be young men and they are not able to work. So, we had a dialogue with the minister," stated Dr Fray.
The surgeries to be done in the western end of the country are part of the wider three-pronged CODE CARE programme which will see nearly $700 million spent across the country.
Tufton explained that an assessment is currently underway to identify the gaps in the current system.
"A lot of work is being done to deal with some of the missing parts to restructure, reorganise, etc. And that will then lead to a more efficient throughput in the operating theatres," he explained.
He stressed, though, that improving the theatres is just one piece of the puzzle. Staffing needs are another. Noting that there is a shortage of operating theatre nurses because many had migrated, Tufton said efforts are underway to "get some of those nurses back".
"Next week, I will be off to the US where we will be signing a few MOUs with a few hospitals or health systems. [I will be] starting in Florida, then to the New York/ Hartford area, which will see the other phase of the strategy hopefully materialising where we will see some operating theatre nurses coming into the public space and whether or not they could come into the private space also," the minister revealed during last Friday's ceremony.
"These are experienced, trained people. They will be allowed some time to come in for a four or five days to work on a particular set of cases and then go back to their substantive position. And I think the trip we took two months ago is bearing some fruit. You are gonna see some of that taking place, primarily coming into the public system. And then hopefully over the next few months or so, as we repair our operating theatres and get our own surgeons in the public system on-board… we can schedule longer hours to try and get greater throughput combined. Hopefully, we can see relief in this area," said Tufton.
The minister argued that he is aware that questions may arise about spending resources to bring nurses from overseas into the country versus fixing the hobbling public health system.
"My view is that we have to find the optimal arrangement given our objective of bringing relief to patients, and that optimal arrangements need all hands on deck despite the fact that we may offend some people. That's not the intention because at the end of the day, it is not about us; it is about the people that we are serving," said Tufton.