Sun | Sep 25, 2022

So it's free health care's fault, huh?

Published:Tuesday | November 10, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Glenn Tucker
In this 2007 photo, seven-year-old Allessandro Rajaram, with his mother, Janeka Braithwaite, waits for medical assistance at the Spanish Town Hospital. Public scrutiny on Jamaica's hospitals has intensified days after the publication of an audit showing severe shortages of supplies, and crumbling, dirty infrastructure.

"The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend." Benjamin Disraeli, speech in the House of Commons, July, 24, 1877.

Thanks to powerful private-sector interests, the damning report on the public-health sector has been prised from the grasp of our Government. And which of us can honestly blame the Government for refusing to release information which, in any civilised, self-respecting country, the Government - along with scores of their senior officers (friends) - would have been compelled to resign.

But, in an incredible response, they have laid the blame elsewhere. The latest story is that this mess is all the fault of the past Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration for introducing free health care, which the country could not afford.




So the 'junjuh' we see on walls today, the cockroaches observing procedures and the failure of health professionals to keep themselves and their surroundings clean is because eight years ago, the JLP introduced free health care? Will you please give me a break!

Say if you will, that the People's National Party (PNP) has demonstrated, repeatedly, that it is seriously challenged by management and governance. What cannot be blamed on anyone else is the failure to place clear instructions for procedure to ensure proper hygiene. Most of the challenges and tragedies we are facing seems to stem from the breakdown of basic procedure.

One is reminded of the case of John Harrison, a 63-year-old American who entered Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, for routine surgery on his shoulder in 2009. He expected to spend one night in hospital and be fully recovered in five days. But after five days, his problems were only just beginning.

He developed an infection that ate away his shoulder bone and rotator cuff. His difficulties persisted for three years, during which time he had to depend on private nurses to bathe and dress him. As it turned out, seven persons were infected that same week.

But the hospital acted responsibly. It closed down that area and called in the appropriate authorities to investigate. Investigations, using video cameras, revealed that traces of human tissue and blood from previous use was caked on two surgical tools.

That same year, the Department of Veterans' Affairs admitted that patients on whom colonoscopies and endoscopies were performed were testing positive for HIV, hepatitis C and B, and syphilis, among other conditions. Again, contaminated tools were found to be the culprit.




There was a time when the proper cleaning of instruments was easier and simpler. That's because these instruments were made of glass and steel. Steam could do a good job at cleaning them. Not so today. Tungsten, plastics and other polymers are used. Some doctors are using high-tech flexible endoscopes and surgical robotics which become clogged with debris that is not visible to the naked eye. Good old steam cannot be used to clean some of these instruments.

We have refined the art of begging and have ended up with all sort of equipment from different places. Do we have the cleaning instructions from the manufacturers? This is such a critical matter, senior executive positions have been created, in most medical facilities, to oversee this area. The state of New Jersey will not employ persons to clean instruments unless they are certified.

The great worry I now have is this: What other deadly danger is lurking out there of which we are completely ignorant? Ignorant because well-paid loyalists are planted in every important position and their primary objective is not the welfare of the people but the protection of their benefactors.

How many Jamaicans are likely to die when, any day now, that decrepit, deteriorating structure containing a deadly chemical at that gold mine leaks its contents into the Rio Minho? The Government will not be at fault because their mayor announced on TV that, some time ago, he 'attended a meeting about it'. So that's that.

This travesty has not affected just premature babies. There is no way of counting the number of victims of this problem who are facing debilitating and lifelong repercussions.

When trained professionals, aware of the deadly consequences of these failures, enter these institutions daily without bringing them to public attention, this should attract criminal prosecution and jail time. It is hypocritical to take the Hippocratic Oath and function like this.

• Glenn Tucker is a sociologist. Email feedback to and