Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Serious about security - Government stepping up efforts to protect staff at public health facilities

Published:Sunday | July 23, 2017 | 7:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
A security guard (left) manning the main entrance to the Kingston Public Hospital.
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The Ministry of Health is spending more than $727 million each year to provide security at the island's public health facilities, but with several reports of verbal and physical attacks on health workers in recent times, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has vowed to do even more to protect them.

"Our health-care professionals sometimes have the very arduous task of saving lives in very stressful environments. They do not need the additional pressure from those who would seek to disrupt the standard procedures at our facilities," Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner.

"The medical staff should at all times be able to operate in environments where their training and expertise decide what are the appropriate measures to take in any given case, and not any external influence," added Tufton, as he announced a review of the security measures at all health facilities.

The review will include an examination of the role of the police and counselling for staff members being affected by rogues.

The management at the Spanish Town Hospital in St Catherine was forced to increase security measures recently after two medical personnel were attacked. A midwife was forced to seek medical attention after being hit on the hand and threatened by a man at the health facility, while a medical intern who was on her way to collect blood at the hospital's laboratory was attacked by an intruder with a knife.

Doctors and nurses at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) told a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum that they were often preyed upon by criminals on and off the hospital's compound. Among those who expressed concern is Accident and Emergency nurse Melanie Guelph, who noted that taking public transportation after work was often a frightening experience.

"Gone are the days when they (thugs) used to protect nurses. Now nobody is protecting you. They don't care who you are, they are going to take your things," said Guelph.

But Tufton noted that the South East Regional Health Authority, which has responsibility for both KPH and the Spanish Town Hospital, spends close to $400 million for security. Additional money is also spent on security infrastructure such as burglar bars, cameras and other electronic devices.

Tufton said a meeting has been requested with the Police High Command through the Ministry of National Security to discuss additional security measures that can be implemented at hospitals, particularly those in the most volatile areas.

According to Tufton, the ministry's tactical approach will be driven by regional data, which would include the areas of greatest need. He said the hospitals that are most impacted by the thugs are KPH, Cornwall Regional, Savanna-la-Mar, Spanish Town and St Ann's Bay.

The health minister added that efforts are also being made to assist health workers to manage the trauma and stress associated with their jobs.

Tufton said the health ministry is at present funding the training of four mental-health workers pursuing diplomas in grief, crisis and trauma counselling. Plans are also being made to train all front-line health workers in psychological first aid.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com