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Contemptuous treatment of cancer patients at UHWI

Published:Saturday | March 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM


This is an open letter to Lyttleton Shirley, chairman of the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA).

I write on behalf of all the cancer patients, their friends and relatives who accompanied them to the cancer clinic at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) on Friday, March 9.

It is nothing short of abominable that persons who are sick - and not just suffering from a bout of the flu, but are ill due to one of the most dreaded diseases in mankind's long history - are made to wait as many as six or more hours to be seen by one of the oncologists on staff at that hospital.

My father is one such patient and was made to endure these excruciatingly long hours while ill, with scant regard shown by the nurses and doctors on duty during this waiting period.

My parents and I were informed at our last visit (Friday, March 9) that the doctors have to go on ward before attending to the cancer patients, and one doctor even had the temerity to emphasise that when we visit UHWI clinics, we "can't expect to be seen immediately". Well, Mr Shirley, can I tell you that most of us Jamaicans are halfway intelligent, and so we do not expect to be seen immediately, but six to seven hours of waiting time borders on the criminal, especially when dealing with the ill!

May I please appeal to your good office to remind doctors, nurses and all other health professionals associated with SERHA - and indeed all health facilities/entities islandwide - that they are supposed to be in the field of medicine to help people! I'm not sure if Jamaican medics take an oath of service (is it the Hippocratic Oath?) when getting their medical certification, but I hope for all our sakes that most such persons are in the field to serve and improve the lives of the public, and to make our quality of life much more pleasant.

Lives on the line

That oncologists and nurses see it fit to spend time on the telephone and joke around with each other while sick people hug themselves and/or double over in pain or just plain fatigue (from sitting for hours in less-than-comfortable chairs) is in no way acceptable!

By way of suggesting solutions to this dilemma, can't the doctors be divided into two sets - one that goes on the wards for three hours or so each morning, while the other set tends to the sick awaiting attention in the cancer and other clinics of the hospital?

Also, especially in light of the high volume of patients, can medics be given a timeline with which to dispense with patients, with the aim being to clear the clinic waiting rooms by a certain time each day - say, by midday or 1 p.m. - while ensuring that each patient gets prompt and the requisite detailed attention?

Our family is now reviewing the option of going to a private oncologist. The fact is that we may not be able to be seen immediately by such a professional, but certainly a six-hour waiting period is unlikely in a private medical facility!

In the meantime, do take a moment to consider those among us who cannot afford private health care and so are obligated to use the public health facility. Are their monies and time not just as valuable as the more prosperous among us? Isn't all human life worthy of care and consideration?

Please, Mr Shirley, whatever you can do to help us poor Jamaicans in this regard would be greatly appreciated!

K.J. Brown