Wed | Jun 16, 2021

Letter of the Day | Health system needs more empathy and compassion

Published:Thursday | June 10, 2021 | 12:07 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

I am very concerned about a series of incidents in our hospitals in recent times involving our patients, and in particular, in the area of maternal care, involving mother and child.

While I believe in due process and so have asked the regional heath authorities and specific health institutions to investigate each incident to determine cause and/or culpability, I am concerned about the deaths, pain and suffering to Jamaicans and their families, and friends from these issues and the physiological impact on our society as a whole.

In public health, we can only be effective in responding to health challenges if the people we serve have confidence in us to perform with professionalism and empathy, and in their best interests. Substandard behaviour cannot and should not be tolerated.

In this regard, I have ask the regional health authorities, through their respective boards, to investigate each matter and swiftly take action where necessary to restore confidence in our processes and where necessary, review the process if it is currently redundant or ineffective.

Customer service training

In recognition of the need for review of our customer care programme, three years ago the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) launched our Compassionate Care programme to train frontline staff in customer service, improve waiting areas and our general hospital environment. The programme has since been launched officially in four hospitals and four health centres and over 3,000 hospital workers trained in customer service.

We have also promoted more visibly in our hospitals and health centres the patients’ charter of rights and responsibilities, which outlines clearly what patients are entitled to in our health institutions and what we expect of them in return. We also added a toll-free line for persons to call if they have a grievance.

For the first few years of the programme, independent surveys conducted indicated that customer service improved in our institutions. Our training have continued but, unfortunately, the pressures of COVID-19 have put a strain on our resources resulting in some cutbacks.

Admittedly, this new set of negative cases are worrying and in my mind requires a review of the process and possibly reminder training sessions for our hospitals’ staff. This I have asked the MOHW’s regional authorities to look into and pursue.

Finally, I have always maintained general confidence in our public health personnel to perform in a manner that is technically sound, even with limited resources and in a COVID era where their is much stress and fatigue.

I have, however, been long concerned that we need to work more on administering clinical services with a greater sense of empathy and compassion. We must work harder to put ourselves in the shoes of those we serve and help them to overcome their fear or pain associated with their particular condition. Too often that level of empathy is not displayed and this makes us seem cold and callous, undermining even our best attempts at clinical administration.

We should remind ourselves more that often times our patients’ most effective therapy is physiological - it’s in making them understand that we know how they feel even while we help them to overcome. We must work on this. It must begin in our institutions of training as well as reinforced in our place of work.

I would like to express my personal condolences to persons who have had bad experiences in recent times in our health institutions, and further commit to ensuring we hold persons accountable for their actions and fix the system where needed, to prevent reoccurrence.

Dr Christopher Tufton

Minister of Health and Wellness