Let Jamaica's system work first
Tufton responds to call for independent probe of deaths during oxygen shortageWednesday, September 15, 2021
BY ALPHEA SUMNER
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says the country's internal systems should be allowed to work before any thought of an independent investigation into whether the medical oxygen shortage that hit hospitals in August was responsible for the deaths of a number of COVID-19 patients at that time.
“I'm not saying that in these things one should not be open to independent inquiries… we need to allow the internal processes to work. This idea of calling for an inquiry and just jumping over the internal processes is hardly ever done in some spaces,” Dr Tufton said, noting that other countries across the globe have been facing shortages of medical oxygen.
“You have a structure, and the structure should be given an opportunity to work. If the structure doesn't work, then I fully appreciate that we need to improve on that, and it may be that at that point you need to have a more independent assessment. But I don't subscribe to the view that we should seek external help so frequently that we end up undermining the structures that we establish. In this instance the issues leading up to where we are, are quite clear and transparent as it relates to oxygen and the availability of it,” Dr Tufton insisted in response to questions as to whether there should be an external probe into a possible correlation between oxygen supply and deaths which occurred during the period when supplies were running out.
He was speaking at a virtual press briefing called by the ministry yesterday to announce that Jamaicans who are now due their second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will have to wait three additional weeks until supplies arrive from the United States.
Arguing that policy could not be driven by rumours, Dr Tufton said, “If we went by what people say on these matters we would be carrying the donkey to market. A lot of these things we have to verify and validate, and people say all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. I have to depend on the process… I cannot depend on hearsay, rumours, and innuendos to determine policy.”
Late August, IGL Limited, the company contracted by the Government to supply medical oxygen, indicated that it was running out of the gas and urged hospitals to use their available supplies carefully. Relief came on August 30 when IGL received a shipment of medical grade oxygen. In the wake of the crisis, the parliamentary Opposition called for full disclosure of the details of the Government's contract with IGL for medical oxygen supplies.
Yesterday, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jaquiline Bisasor McKenzie dismissed any notion of a cover up and warned that, if a large percentage of the population remains unvaccinated the health system could face the same oxygen challenge if there is a fourth surge in novel coronavirus infections.
“On August 27 to 28 the health system was faced with a crisis — we ran low on oxygen supplies in our hospitals – and the health teams worked tirelessly to try to reduce the impact of this on our patients and we were able to save a lot of persons,” she said.
“There are persons who died over that period of time, and right now we are unable to say if it was directly because of the low oxygen supply or was as a natural progression of their illness,” she stated at the news conference.
The CMO stressed that the health authorities are probing the circumstances surrounding those deaths, but “the thought that we are hiding really should not be entertained by the Jamaican public, because I think that we have been very transparent in how it is that we have been trying to manage this crisis”.
Up to September 13, the country recorded 76,987 COVID-19 cases since March 10, 2020 when the first case was reported, and 1,736 deaths. Of the total number of cases, 50,077 patients have recovered.
On Saturday, 536 new cases were recorded over 24 hours.