'Health care EPOC needed now'
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
The Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA) is proposing that the Government, through the Ministry of Health, establish a body similar to the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) for the health sector to provide a road map for its immediate reform.
President of the JMDA, Dr Shane Alexis, told The Sunday Gleaner that it is time for the talk of reform to stop and the implementation begin as all the sector-related officials are well aware of the problems facing the health sector, as many of these issues have existed for decades.
According to Alexis, the solution to the problems exists right here amongst health professionals.
"This would be a committee of stakeholders outside of the Ministry of Health who would assist in, not only bringing credibility to the sector, but maintain continuity and credibility to the programmes of the ministry."
The JMDA head noted that the Government, under its four-year loan facility with the International Monetary Fund, demonstrated its seriousness to the programme by establishing an oversight committee to monitor the reform measures.
Alexis argued that if the Government is serious about improving the health sector, it should offer an EPOC-style commitment to the sector.
"The establishment of such a committee would be the clearest example of seriousness on the part of Government, even if they can only start with incremental changes.
"Such a committee would cause those changes to be able to stand the test of time, just as the EPOC for the economy operates."
According to Alexis, while the need for reform cannot be overstated, it is unsustainable for so much of the sector's budget to be used to pay salaries.
"It is a well-known fact that 80 per cent of the health-sector budget goes towards salaries. Including amongst those professionals, however, are some of the most qualified and dedicated professionals, including doctors, nurses and other related individuals," stated Alexis.
Health reforms, he said, must consider current trends in the sector and among the country's population.
"In order to reform the sector, we must bear in mind current trends in terms of life expectancy, the epidemiology of diseases we are facing; non-communicable diseases, and our economic realities. We cannot cherry-pick any one area, whether it is salaries or any other. We all agree that an overhaul is needed. Let's start where we agree," said the JMDA president.