Health workers given 'basket to carry water'
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament, Dr Peter Phillips, is contending that the legislature will have to resolve how resources are going to be found to fund health care in Jamaica, noting that at present, the public health sector is being given "basket to carry water".
Phillips suggested that the resources can come from taxation or fee for services, including collection of fees from patients with health insurance, to finance the ailing health system.
The case of the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) was flung into the spotlight on Tuesday at a meeting of the PAC, where officials from the Ministry of Health and executives from the agency pointed to inadequate resources that have left the laboratory struggling to effectively carry out its mandate.
A massive backlog of samples which Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis highlighted, last year, in an activity-based audit of the laboratory, were attributed, in part, to the sparse resources allocated to the public body.
Since last December the backlog has been reduced from 6,905 to 334 samples.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Elaine Foster Allen, told PAC members that "some of the challenges with the backlog have to do with finding resources to have a proper AC and ventilation system in place one that works consistently. The other has to do with staffing issues and internal issues to do with finding the right suppliers to provide the reagents to the standard and quality necessary to run the tests".
Director of the NPHL, Dr Angela Scott, said the facility has had problems maintaining the appropriate ambient temperature in the laboratory, which affects the operations of the machines. "We have had to be patching the existing system," she said.
Scott indicated that there was a shortage of specialised skills in cytology at the laboratory.
She told committee members that the introduction of the no-user-fee policy resulted in a 70 per cent increase in the number of samples coming to the laboratory, adding that the requisite support was not provided to handle the sharp increase.
It was highlighted that the budgetary support requested by the laboratory, this financial year, to replace obsolete equipment was $80 million but only $3 million of that amount was provided.
Committee member Juliet Holness urged public servants to ensure that efficiency and proper management were being practised in order to get better results.
"We have to ensure that as parliamentarians and civil servants we try to do much more with the same resources," she insisted.
Dr Winston De La Haye, chief medical officer argued that the efficiency and innovation being employed by the staff was akin to "lining that basket with newspaper, but there is a limit, and it gets soaked". He said that without the requisite funding, the public health sector is unable to deliver on its mandate sufficiently.
Responding, Holness charged that "when we look at efficiency, I think it is more than newspaper in a basket carrying water."
Committee member Leslie Campbell said the public health sector has failed to collect fees from patients with health insurance policy, noting that trauma cases alone have cost the regional health authorities some $8 billion.
The regional health bodies however, collected $32.5 million on average from private insurers.