Bustmante Hospital creak under increased demand for service
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
More patients, longer wait. For sick minors seeking medical help at the Bustamante Hospital for Children lengthy delays are certain.
A Sunday Gleaner special investigation has revealed that persons with ill children sometimes have to sit for up to 10-hours before they get any medical attention.
But this is usually no fault of the overworked nurses and doctors at the island's premier facility for treating children.
The hospital is just overburdened as it treats more patients than it was designed for and operates with fewer staff than would be adequate to meet the demand.
The Sunday Gleaner probe, which was conducted over five days last month, revealed that it was not unusual for 1,800 to 2,000 persons to enter the hospital's casualty department in 24 hours seeking medical attention.
Health officials told our news team that some months are more problematic for the staff at the hospital as the demand for medical treatment related to seasonal illnesses such as dengue and malaria increases.
Lyttleton 'Tanny' Shirley, Chairman of the South East Regional Health Authority - which has responsibility for the major hospitals in the Corporate Area - admitted that there are concerns about the long wait for medical treatment.
He explained that the wait was a direct result of the demand for medical service.
"Every part of the hospital was designed and built to accommodate a fixed number of persons, even the waiting area.
"From time to time, the hospital will experience an increase in the numbers seeking medical care and we must remember that it is the only paediatric referral hospital in the island," Shirley told The Sunday Gleaner.
"It takes cases from all over the island. And during what we call 'crop season' at the hospital, when more women tend to give birth at maternity hospitals like Victoria Jubilee and at the Spanish Town Hospital, critical cases will be handled by the Bustamante children's hospital, and we cant turn anyone away," added Shirley.
He argued that September to November is the rainy season where there is dengue and malaria, "and you find a lot of persons bringing children with respiratory illnesses, plus other emergencies".
Shirley added: "During this time, they experience the highest peak in terms of patient demand. There is bound to be a long waiting time."
However, Shirley said administrators at the hospital are expected to assess the situation and determine if additional help is needed.
"They would see who is available and call in additional help for sessions, if the situation requires it. Sometimes, there is a spike in the numbers of persons needing care, and that is the thing to do and I am sure it is done," said Shirley.
The Sunday Gleaner's probe was launched after a mother complained of an 18-hour vigil from the time she entered the hospital gates to the time she left.
According to the mother, whose name is being withheld, she was one of more than 120 persons at the hospital when she arrived about 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 11 with her baby son running a high fever and having diarrhoea.
She did not leave the hospital until 1:50 p.m. the following day.
"A big crowd was there when I went with my son. While there and waiting agonisingly, some parents who know the system, told me that because it can take a day to see a doctor; they have to lie about the condition of their children.
"Saying your child is asthmatic gets you to see the doctor fast, one parent said."
The mother said her anger and fear rose to the level of her son's fever as the night dragged on without him being seen by a doctor.
That experience is one many parents can relate to, having visited the hospital with their sick child.
wailing in discomfort
On one late evening visit to the hospital last month, our news team saw a large, weary-looking group of adults, some with children wailing in discomfort, searching for chairs as they joined the long line for assessment.
The common cry from the parents was, "is from morning we here".
Among them was a weary- looking mother and her son, who was about six years old.
At 8:30 p.m. that night, she had already waited 11-hours before her child's name was called to be seen by a doctor.
She said her son was running a fever and crying for tummyache from 7:30 that morning.
With only a patty in her stomach, hunger pains set in, and the child's fever showed no signs of letting up. He also had very little to eat during the long wait.
"The child was assessed and they saw that he had the fever. He was given paracetamol and they told me to souse him down, with water. Between that and rubbing alcohol, that helped early in the day, but in the evening it start coming back again," she told The Sunday Gleaner with the tears on the verge of spilling over.
Her expression turned to joy and she leapt from her seat as her name was called to report to registration while somewhere in the distance, another child wailed in painful agony.