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Not enough! - JMA dissatisfied with prime minister’s efforts to address crisis in health sector

Published:Monday | November 9, 2015 | 12:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
Metry Seaga
Dr Myrton Smith

Unacceptable and unsatisfactory.

That's the response of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA) to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's actions in addressing the tragic deaths of 19 premature babies at two of the island's major hospitals.

"We find it disconcerting that, to date, those who are stewards of the nation's public health have not been held responsible for their actions, particularly in light of the recent audit which has revealed the longstanding shortcomings in the health sector," a JMA press release said yesterday.

The Partnership for Jamaica National Council, which comprises the JMA, other private-sector groups, trade unions, academia, members of civil society, the Church, women's organisations, human rights and environmental groups, and the youth - had joined the call coming from various quarters for not only persons be held accountable for the tragedy, but to also release the closely guarded audit report of the four regional health authorities.

Simpson Miller relented and instructed that the report be released last Friday. She also compromised on the deafening calls to fire Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson by reassigning him to take over the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and charging Horace Dalley to run Health.

In an address to the nation on Sunday night, the prime minister said: "The outbreak of bacteria in some hospitals, resulting in deaths of premature babies, has caused the families and our nation great pain. This recent outbreak has caused more deaths than is the norm in hospitals in Jamaica and developed countries."

A total of 42 babies were infected during four outbreaks of the klebsiella and serratia bacteria, beginning in June, at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and the Cornwall Regional Hospital.

Simpson Miller instructed the new minister to ensure "that every effort must be made as quickly as possible to correct the shortcomings in the health sector".

She further said "his first order of business will be to strengthen the system of health-care delivery, to eliminate the deaths of babies or adults from causes such as bacterial outbreaks ... . Everyone must be held accountable."

But these efforts have been dismissed as not enough, including by the opposition Jamaica Labour Party, which accused the prime minister of having "a very high tolerance and patience with failure and underperformance which places the health and security of the people of Jamaica at risk".

The JMA, whose president is Metry Seaga, added that it "continues to appeal to the honourable prime minister for substantive accountability and transparency, and hopes that the situation is remedied as we demand good governance for all Jamaicans."

The association further said it would be "keenly observing" the actions of Dalley to see the steps he would now undertake to ensure accountability and transparency going forward in addressing the critical issues.

The JMA also said it planned to keep an eye on Ferguson in his new role.

In the meantime, the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) said it was happy that the audit report was finally released, as it had always maintained that "it was an error to withhold the results".

"The reports confirm the complaints that were made by our colleagues and by other categories of health-care workers. It paints a picture of a health-care system that is underfunded and/or poorly managed and in dire need of systematic improvements," said MAJ President Dr Myrton Smith.

"It is our hope that the new minister will begin his return to this ministry on the right footing. No minister can succeed in this ministry without the support of the workers in the sector."

The MAJ also expressed dissatisfaction that UHWI was not part of the audit, especially because it is partly funded by the Government.

In moving forward, the association said more funds needed to be allocated to the health sector; immediate improvements must be made to the hospitals' infrastructure; communication improved from the relevant authorities; staff retained; and greater accountability at all levels.