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Comprehensive reform critical to fixing health sector

Published:Thursday | September 3, 2015 | 9:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
From left: Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson; Dr Marion Bullock-Ducasse, director of emergency, disaster management and special services in the health ministry; and Michael Stewart, chairman, Southern Regional Health Authority, speak to members of the media on the findings and recommendations of the audit into the regional health authorities at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston yesterday.

Following yesterday's release of the much-anticipated report on the audit of Jamaica's public-health system, Dr Kevin Harvey, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, said that a comprehensive reform was critical to resolving the challenges being faced in the sector, many of which were outlined in the report.

"The health services in Jamaica needs a comprehensive reform, done under a 10-year plan, to really address the deficiencies and meet the shift in conditions we are having. Since Jamaica's health system was developed (in the early 1900s), the population has both aged and doubled, there is a massive problem of chronic non-communicable diseases, and the health services that currently exist were not build for it," Harvey told The Gleaner.

Critical to this reform, he said, was "getting to where we have a comprehensive health-information system for the entire sector. This will help us with medical records, drugs, pharmacies, laboratories, and so on. It will be a very expensive process to get there, so we have to take it in stages".

eight CRITICAL DEFICIENCIES

He said the ministry has already established a central laboratory information system in the Corporate Area health sector, which will be gradually rolled out across the island. Also being implemented is an integrated pharmacy-management system. A central medical records system is to follow.

Yesterday at a press conference at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, the health ministry outlined the findings of the audit report of the regional health authorities, which highlighted eight critical deficiencies being faced in all four regions. However, the findings come as no surprise, as doctors, nurses, and members of the public have long been pointing out these challenges.

The audit report revealed that among the challenges being faced in some, if not all, public-health facilities islandwide were inadequately maintained systems and infrastructure for infection prevention and control; inconsistent and inadequate supply of pharmaceuticals, sundries and equipment; poor supply and stock management; poor infrastructure; and poor patient/customer service.

Following outcry from both the public and health-care workers, in May, Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson had directed the four regional health authorities to conduct a comprehensive audit of their operations to determine any gaps, in order to put in place the necessary corrective measures to deliver adequate health-care services to the public.

The audit focused intensely on the areas of maternity, operating theatres, neonatal units, intensive care and accident and emergency, detailing organisation, resources, operations, infection control, infrastructure, equipment and supplies. Employees' work conditions were also addressed.

"These findings are significant, though in many areas they existed over time, and we had already started to take the necessary actions to improve services," Ferguson said.

"We have acknowledged that the health system is in need of some reform to meet the changing health-care needs of the population. We must embark on this with an appropriate plan to take us forward. We are now at a stage where we will shortly have a signing of an agreement to develop a 10-year strategy, which will be guided by a multi-sectoral group to be established."

He added, "Jamaica's future development will largely depend on the strength of our health sector."

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com