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Angry, violent, abusive patients frustrate public-hospital staff

Published:Thursday | June 6, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson tours Kingston Public Hospital earlier this year. - File

Doctors and nurses across Jamaica's public hospitals have been undergoing tremendous stress ever since the Government introduced the no-user-fee policy five years ago.

Complaining bitterly of daily abuse from angry patients, increased stress levels and exhaustion in a study conducted by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) on a review of the system, researchers found that public health-care workers were extremely frustrated because the Government failed to put in place the necessary resources to deal with the heavy demand the free health care would attract.

Hospital workers said the increased patient-to-staff ratio was overbearing, frustrating both them and the patients, which has led to daily verbal confrontations.

"A lot of staff members are faced with angry, violent and abusive patients who are frustrated by the system," was the response CaPRI got from doctors and nurses.

"The staff is demoralised, overworked, burdened, underpaid and exhausted daily."

Sleeping on the job

Faced with longer working hours, the staff was becoming weary and sleeping on the job, the study also revealed. This led to staff burn out and increased stress levels.

CaPRI has recommended that if the no-user fee policy is to be maintained, it must be twinned with a package of reforms to address the challenges.

"It is worth studying the impact that the policy has had on the overall 'health of the nation' and whether or not there has been an increase on preventative health care," CaPRI noted.

In conducting the study between April 15 and May 20 across all 14 parishes, the think tank was seeking to investigate the effect of the no-user-fee policy on health services in Jamaica and to explore the scope for returning to a fee-paying system in the future.

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson is expected to make an announcement soon on the Government's decision on the no-user-fee policy.

As part of its commitment to universal access to health care, in 2008, the Bruce Golding administration removed user fees for services at public hospitals, except the University Hospital of the West Indies. This was a significant departure from a user-fee policy reintroduced in 1984.

The CaPRI study was carried out with the aid of grants from the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, Canada, The Gleaner Company and the National Health Fund.