Sat | Sep 23, 2023

'Care - less!'

Published:Sunday | June 9, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Victoria Jubilee Hospital.

Govt accused of secret cuts to health services but Health Ministry says not true

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Medical doctors and the Ministry of Health are at odds over claims that the Government is undermining the quality of health care delivered in public hospitals by stealthily cutting staff in facilities across the country.

The allegation of the "Nicodemus-like' staff cuts was made by the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association (JMDA) last Thursday.

But hours later this was denied by the health ministry.

The JMDA, which represents junior doctors, singled out the issue as a major malady that requires an immediate panacea.

"Of current concern is the reduction in staffing throughout hospitals islandwide and the effect this will have on the provision of care by us, as doctors, to our patients," said Dr Sajeevika Amarakoon, first vice-president of the JMDA.

Amarakoon, a resident in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), told our news team that the cutback in staffing level seems to be in response to the tight fiscal space the Government is now operating in.

However, she warned that the Government cannot be penny wise and pound foolish in its approach.

problem of reducing staff

"We, as doctors, understand the current economic status of our country and are willing to make fair sacrifices. However, reducing staffing will increase the patient burden on an already short-staffed health system.

"As a result, this will also lead to longer patient waiting time, increased exhaustion of working staff and substandard care being provided by our health teams," argued Amarakoon.

She added that the JDMA is eager to provide suggestions for the advancement of the country's health system and is always available for dialogue with the necessary parties.

But in its response, the ministry said rather than cutting staff, it is conducting an exercise which could create more posts in the public health system.

"The Ministry of Health views such alarmist statements as disappointing especially in context of the well-publicised 'cadre rationalisation' being undertaken, which would greatly benefit members of the group to which the statement is attributed," said Permanent Secretary Dr Jean Dixon.

"This rationalising project is aimed at adjusting the staff cadre, which has not been reviewed since 1970, to create posts to which persons, who otherwise would remain temporary or contracted, can be appointed.

"This exercise is being done through a process of ongoing consultation and planning and, is being done in a way that will ultimately redound to the benefit of the health sector," added Dixon.

She said the health ministry would urge those team members who need to be updated or properly briefed, to utilise the existing channels to avert confusion and alarm.

A recent study by the local think tank CaPRI found that medical professionals were already concerned that the introduction of free health care some four years ago was already putting them under pressure.

According to the CaPRI study, doctors and nurses believe the increased patient load since the free health care was introduced had led to an increase in the patient-to-staff ratio, leaving medical personnel demoralised, overworked and burnt out.

These concerns are now mag-nified with the reported staff cuts by the State.