Tufton laments neglect of clinics
Dr Christopher Tufton, the minister of health, has said the shortage of bed space at the Black River Hospital and complaints by residents of lengthy waiting times emphasise the need for changes in the way community clinics operate. He also pointed out improvements that are in the works for the Black River Hospital.
His comments came during a community meeting at the Sandy Bank Primary School in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, last Thursday. The meeting was held an hour after Tufton completed a tour of the hospital.
"We haven't built a hospital in Jamaica for 25 years. Most of the hospitals that are up and running, Black River included, were never built for the population that they have to serve. Black River was transformed because it was not built as a hospital originally," Tufton said.
"When it was transformed into a hospital, it was built for 97 or 100 beds; yet, anytime you go to Black River, you have 120 or even 150 persons in inpatient care. The physical facility is unable to cope as adequately as it should because of the sheer demand on the system," the minister stated.
During his tour of the hospital, Tufton had expressed concern about inadequate bed space in some of the wards. Medical officials subsequently presented a development plan for the hospital, which includes a phased expansion to faciliate additional capacity and beds, and some specialised services.
"They have made some progress over the last number of months in a couple of areas, and they are going to be providing some additional bed capacity in the female and male wards. These will be completed in short order - over the next month or two - and they are also looking at another area to transform the accident and emergency (A&E) ward, which is under a lot of stress. I suspect you will see a lot of improvement in that," Tufton said.
"There is a relationship (islandwide) between the primary health care - the clinic - and the hospital, in particular the accident and emergency, which is always open, always available, because the hospital is built that way. So, anytime you have an emergency, everybody goes there. Sometimes 75 per cent of the people who end up in the A&E really ought to have gone to a clinic, because their problem is not an emergency," he explained.
Tufton described consecutive governments' response to the resulting burdening of hospitals with non-emergency cases as "evasion".
"Over time, the primary health-care facility has lost a lot of credibility; it closes too early; you don't have the doctor; you don't have the facilities, so people just look to the hospital as the one-stop shop," he said.
"We have to get back to the stage where primary health care functions, and functions properly," Tufton noted.