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LETTER OF THE DAY - Frustrations of 'free' health care

Published:Tuesday | January 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

I am very worried with regard to Jamaica's health-care system. I am extremely nervous at the thought of becoming a patient for a second time in Jamaica. I had the misfortune of spending a few weeks at the Mandeville Regional Hospital after returning from England.

I have to say that I do not expect to stay in this country as I am a sickly person and nobody should have reason to feel insecure about his or her health while being in a hospital with competent doctors and nurses. Don't get me wrong - most of the problems do not seem to lie with the doctors or nurses, rather with the system and structure.

The points below are among the most basic problems I observed while being a patient at the hospital. After doing some research, I have discovered that the problem is spread right across the country.

First is the increased and continued influx of patients to a hospital that is not properly and sufficiently staff. The idea of seven nurses to 150 patients on any given day is preposterous. The staff is extremely overworked and underpaid, which does not leave a lot of room for motivation. The workload is exhausting and equipment is lacking. Staff having to work with such little support have to treat patients as best they can and as quickly as possible. This sometimes doesn't leave room for a thorough investigation and proper diagnosis.

Patients, on the other hand, are not always understanding, having come into the hospital with what they think to be an emergency and having to wait five and a half hours to be treated. They get frustrated and discouraged, which often results in a dangerous working environment. Most significantly, however, is the cost it places on the Jamaican people. When patients are not properly cared for, they end up having to return with the same problem. That in itself is another cost to the hospital as well as the patient. Some unfortunate patients have died at home, while others are discouraged by the waiting period and often don't come in until it's too late for the nurses and doctors to be able to do anything to help them.

The hospital environment

Second is the environment itself. The hospital is supposed to be a sanitised place. However, sometimes the hospital itself is dirty; then there are the times when there is no tissue in the bathroom or running water. How sanitary can it be when one goes to the bathroom in a hospital and cannot wash his or her hands or use tissue to do his or her business?

The Government needs to look at the bigger picture. Jamaica cannot manage a free health-care system at the moment. At least, if the citizens were paying an attendance fee, money would be going into the hospital to maintain or manage the basic supplies to maintain the hospital. The number of patients would be significantly reduced. This would not be a bad thing, in that the Jamaican public is under the impression that since health care is free, they can come in to get cold medicine and a bandage to put on a small cut. Now, if they were paying a registration fee, the likelihood of that happening would be significantly reduced.

I am, etc.,