Fri | Jul 30, 2021

Regional health authorities defend Ferguson

Published:Tuesday | November 3, 2015 | 12:00 AMAdrian Frater and Anastasia Cunningham

THE CHAIRMEN of Jamaica's four regional health authorities have come to the defence of embattled Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, taking issue with criticisms being levelled at him and the two health-care facilities at which bacterial outbreaks in neonatal wards are being blamed for the deaths of 19 babies.

The health officials' comments came hours after Ferguson expressed support for them during a press conference earlier in the day.

"The boards of the regional health authorities take note that, over the past few days, there have been unwarranted attacks in the media on the minister, as well as our hard-working and exceedingly competent health workers, in relation to fatal bacterial outbreaks in the neonatal wards of two of our major institutions," the chairmen said in their statement

"We recognise that such occurrences are not uncommon in any hospital internationally nor locally, but it is as painful to us as it is to the families to have any resulting death, more so that of a promising infant."

Since June, 42 premature babies have been infected as a result of four outbreaks of the klebsiella and serratia bacteria, resulting in the deaths of 12 babies at University Hospital of the West Indies and seven at Cornwall Regional Hospital.

Ferguson has denied knowledge of the outbreaks before the matter was made public on October 16 and has resisted calls to resign. On the weekend, Opposition Spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw accused the minister of knowing about the outbreak long before.

The scandal that led to fingerpointing has captivated the country for the past few weeks, resulting in calls for persons responsible for the tragedy to be held accountable.




The health officials' statement went on to outline the unhappiness of the joint boards in regard to the "insensitive" manner in which the matter was being dealt with in the public domain.

They said it must be very difficult for the affected families, some of whom are still getting clinical counselling via the health sector.

"Please remember that the families are still under our professional care in terms of clinical counselling, and please remember, also, that there are thousands of patients in our 25 hospitals and more than 300 health centres being professionally attended to by our more than 2,000 health-care workers at any given moment," they said.

"It is highly irresponsible for elements and agendas to try to undermine this excellent service delivery, which has made us the envy of the world."

The chairmen - Calvin G. Brown, Western Regional Health Authority; Dr Andrei Cooke, South Eastern Regional Health Authority; Leon Gordon, North Eastern Regional Health Authority; and Michael Stewart, Southern Regional Health Authority - said in looking at the global picture, there was nothing unusual about the local situation.

Based on worldwide statistics, they said, neonatal deaths range from 10 in 1,000 live births in Japan to 200 per 1,000 in Mauritania.

Since 2013, Jamaica's rate is 12 out of every 1,000 live births.

"We feel compelled to remind that the World Health Organization (WHO) states that worldwide, the main causes of newborn deaths are prematurity and low birth weight, infections, asphyxia (lack of oxygen at birth) and birth trauma," the statement read.

"A review of the data at Cornwall Regional Hospital between 2000 and 2015 shows that over the past 15 years, the neonatal mortality rate at that institution has been less than 10 per 1,000 live births. The highest was in 2008 when it went up to approximately 20 per 1,000 live births. This indicates that this medical team is on the cutting edge of medical care and has been doing so over the past 15 years."

In speaking to the impact of Dr. Ferguson on the local health care system, the statement pointed out that the minister has championed the crafting of a five-year plan, which is being used as a road map to combat Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and their risk factors, which is aimed at reducing by 25 per cent, the burden of preventable morbidity and disability, and avoidable premature mortality, due to NCDs and injuries by the year 2025.

Acknowledging that the RHAs and ministry officials have been coming under tremendous pressure, Ferguson said yesterday “let it not be said that in these difficult times that we failed to carry through with our responsibilities. Let us together continue to work for our people and the citizens of Jamaica.”




In the meantime, following increased pressure for the ministry to make public the full Audit Report of the four Regional Health Authorities, which it had commissioned in May, yesterday Ferguson announced that he would be releasing it.

“After consultation, I will be releasing the audits of the RHAs, in order to prevent further misinformation coming into the public and in keeping with openness and transparency,” he said at the Programme for the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality (PROMAC) contracts signing to improve neonatal and maternal care in the public health sector, at the Knutsford Court Hotel in St. Andrew.

“We took an early position as a team that we would hold these audits. We did consultations with several groups, and coming out of those consultations, we felt that we should hold. But based on what is unfolding, it is very clear that this matter has now become the centre of a political campaign,” he said.

“And therefore, in the best interest of our citizens and our country, our fears as it related to the hospitals that were audited still remain, relative to persons demonising our institutions. But we have noted the Private Sector Organisation (of Jamaica) and other organisations have expressed their own views in relation to being open.”

Ferguson added, “It was never our intention not to be open or be transparent. Persons would remember that when we had the press briefing, we spoke to some of the critical issues in the audit and we also gave a summary of the audit.”

The health minister also announced that he will be giving a fulsome response in a public broadcast to the nation on Sunday night, “during that time, I will be making further announcements in relation to the way forward.”

Sources say the report is expected to be released after the national broadcast.