Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
CHAIRMAN OF the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Lyttleton Shirley, says that overtime work and sessional duties are "wrecking" the island's nurses and doctors and compromising health-care delivery.
As such, Shirley is urging a better way to rotate staff to help reduce the potential risk of fatigue, errors and high stress levels, among other things.
Shirley was addressing the opening session of the 42nd island conference of the Nurses' Association of Jamaica (NAJ) at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort and Spa in Ocho Rios on Friday.
"We must start a self-examination and distribution of resources," Shirley suggested. "Overtime and sessional duties are wrecking our nurses and our doctors and causing underlying compromised care to our patients.
Late last year, former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association, Dayton Campbel, ignited a firestorm when he divulged that doctors at the Cornwall Regional Hospital had fallen over in the middle of surgery because they had been up the entire night operating as a result of inadequate staffing.
Dr Campbell, now a member of parliament, had appeared before Parliament's Human Resource and Social Development Committee where he made the comment.
At that time, the chairman of the Western Regional Health Authority, Noel Donaldson, had refuted claims that patient care at the Cornwall Regional Hospital was being compromised because of exhaustion among overworked doctors.
Find better ways of rotating staff
Yesterday, Shirley told the gathering at the NAJ conference that "we must find a better way of rotating our staff to help with the disparity of those who are working long hours, beyond their physical capacity to deliver quality care, in order to earn a larger pay cheque, as opposed to others who are working fewer hours and struggling to make ends meet.
"Certainly, this will reduce the potential risk of fatigue, errors, poor mannerism, poor communication, high stress levels, family dysfunctionality due to absenteeism, and subtle power play."
Shirley also warned that some nurses and doctors who were not living up to the creed to which they had vowed must now be held accountable for equitable and proper patient care.
According to Shirley: "Some of the complaints we are getting from our patients are most disturbing and our legal department at the ministry and at the region is now inundated with lawsuits, many of which will end up as serious cases to be heard, with the possibility of large compensations being awarded."
At the same time, Shirley acknowledged the tremendous contribution made by the island's nurses.
"Without a doubt, there are not many people whose lives have not been touched by the care and reassurance that nurses provide every hour of the day, every day of the year.
"Our nurses are there for our patients - to educate them, to counsel them, to encourage them and to comfort them above and beyond the technical care that is provided."
Shirley congratulated the NAJ for "the sterling role" it continues to play in championing the rights of nurses.
SERHA covers 10 hospitals, including Kingston Public, Bustamante for Children and Victoria Jubilee in the Corporate Area, Spanish Town in St Catherine and Princess Margaret in St Thomas.