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J'can health care not good enough for Roger Clarke?

Published:Monday | August 4, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Garth A. Rattray

I attended a workshop on 'Everyday Neurosurgery In The GP Office' last week Sunday in Mandeville. Several eminent and very impressive speakers presented. The workshop served to further concretise my confidence in our resident medical talent.

I am, therefore, in a quandary to figure out why Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke sought surgery and medical treatment for a back condition in the United States on "the best advice of his doctors". Why would the minister be advised to seek medical help elsewhere when there is no shortage of world-class, brilliant neurologists, neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons here in Jamaica?

Our doctors have been trained all over the world and are, therefore, academically and technically able to stand toe to toe with the best anywhere on this planet. And, in keeping with their skills, there are also supportive care facilities at several of our hospitals.

I have seen the wondrous work done on a patient who had several cervical (neck) vertebrae invaded and destroyed by metastasised prostate cancer. The neurosurgeon employed his skill, aided by cutting-edge imaging computer technology, to virtually rebuild the vertebrae eroded and annihilated by the spreading cancer. The work that we do here on lumbar (lower back) vertebrae is no less phenomenal. Minimally invasive (small incision) operations are being performed on back structures.

I have no idea what is wrong with the minister's back but, offhand, I can't think of any condition that would make it necessary for him to fly off to any other country to have whatever ails him repaired.

Unethical practice

I have always thought it ethically wrong for any public servant, especially at the parliamentary level, to seek medical help overseas if the service is offered right here at home.

I must assume that the minister's United States medical expenses will be paid for with tax dollars. We all know that the cost of medical care in the United States is phenomenal, especially when compared to the cost of medical care here. In fact, this is one of the reasons why medical tourism thrives in the countries that offer it.

So, as the Government loudly laments the paucity of foreign-exchange availability and mercilessly squeezes taxpayers like prey within the deadly coils of a boa constrictor, many hundreds of thousands of precious foreign exchange will be spent unnecessarily.

I find it disturbing that a government minister is flying away to seek treatment when our minister of health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, was recently quoted as saying, "My vision is for Jamaica to become the health hub for the Caribbean and a major player in the Americas ... ." He also said, "Jamaica is well placed with top-class health professionals ... . We should have people coming here to get their health care at a tenth of the cost of elsewhere ... ."

Why then would a minister of government seek medical care anywhere else? No foreigner will trust his/her health care to a country when its own government ministers do not trust it.

Insult to health-care system

Going abroad for surgery and medical care for a back problem belittles and severely insults our medical professionals, demonstrates a distrust of our health-care system, and reveals a disregard for the economic hardships that we face.

Of course, I could be very wrong. Perhaps Minister Clarke is funding all of this out of his own pocket. Perhaps a benefactor is footing the bill for everything. Perhaps the minister has an exotic ailment that I know nothing about and that is beyond our medical experts here in Jamaica.

If any of these things is true, we deserve to know all the facts. Otherwise, it is reasonable to assume that the minister is suffering from the kind of back problem that can be dealt with right here by one or several of our extremely capable experts.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and