Health workers given ‘bas­ket to carry wa­ter’

Jamaica Gleaner - - SOCIAL -

CHAIR­MAN OF the Public Ac­counts Com­mit­tee (PAC) of Par­lia­ment, Dr Peter Phillips, is con­tend­ing that the leg­is­la­ture will have to re­solve how re­sources are go­ing to be found to fund health care in Ja­maica, not­ing that at present, the public health sec­tor is be­ing given “bas­ket to carry wa­ter”.

Phillips sug­gested that the re­sources can come from tax­a­tion or fee for ser­vices, in­clud­ing col­lec­tion of fees from pa­tients with health insurance, to fi­nance the ail­ing health sys­tem.

The case of the National Public Health Lab­o­ra­tory (NPHL) was flung into the spot­light on Tues­day at a meet­ing of the PAC, where of­fi­cials from the Ministry of Health and ex­ec­u­tives from the agency pointed to in­ad­e­quate re­sources that have left the lab­o­ra­tory strug­gling to ef­fec­tively carry out its man­date.

A mas­sive back­log of sam­ples which Au­di­tor Gen­eral Pamela Mon­roe El­lis high­lighted, last year, in an ac­tiv­ity-based au­dit of the lab­o­ra­tory, were at­trib­uted, in part, to the sparse re­sources al­lo­cated to the public body.

Since last De­cem­ber the back­log has been re­duced from 6,905 to 334 sam­ples.


Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary in the Ministry of Health, Elaine Foster Allen, told PAC mem­bers that “some of the chal­lenges with the back­log have to do with find­ing re­sources to have a proper AC and ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem in place — one that works con­sis­tently. The other has to do with staffing is­sues and in­ter­nal is­sues to do with find­ing the right sup­pli­ers to pro­vide the reagents to the stan­dard and qual­ity nec­es­sary to run the tests”.

Direc­tor of the NPHL, Dr An­gela Scott, said the fa­cil­ity has had prob­lems main­tain­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate am­bi­ent tem­per­a­ture in the lab­o­ra­tory, which af­fects the oper­a­tions of the ma­chines. “We have had to be patch­ing the ex­ist­ing sys­tem,” she said.

Scott in­di­cated that there was


a short­age of spe­cialised skills in cy­tol­ogy at the lab­o­ra­tory.

She told com­mit­tee mem­bers that the in­tro­duc­tion of the nouser-fee pol­icy re­sulted in a 70 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of sam­ples com­ing to the lab­o­ra­tory, adding that the req­ui­site sup­port was not pro­vided to han­dle the sharp in­crease.

It was high­lighted that the bud­getary sup­port re­quested by the lab­o­ra­tory, this fi­nan­cial year, to re­place ob­so­lete equip­ment was $80 mil­lion but only $3 mil­lion of that amount was pro­vided.

Com­mit­tee mem­ber Juliet Hol­ness urged public ser­vants to en­sure that ef­fi­ciency and proper man­age­ment were be­ing prac­tised in or­der to get bet­ter re­sults.

“We have to en­sure that as par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and civil ser­vants we try to do much more with the same re­sources,” she in­sisted.

Dr Win­ston De La Haye, chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer ar­gued that the ef­fi­ciency and in­no­va­tion be­ing em­ployed by the staff was akin to “lin­ing that bas­ket with news­pa­per, but there is a limit, and it gets soaked”. He said that with­out the req­ui­site fund­ing, the public health sec­tor is un­able to de­liver on its man­date suf­fi­ciently.

Re­spond­ing, Hol­ness charged that “when we look at ef­fi­ciency, I think it is more than news­pa­per in a bas­ket car­ry­ing wa­ter.”

Com­mit­tee mem­ber Les­lie Camp­bell said the public health sec­tor has failed to col­lect fees from pa­tients with health insurance pol­icy, not­ing that trauma cases alone have cost the re­gional health au­thor­i­ties some $8 bil­lion.

The re­gional health bod­ies how­ever, col­lected $32.5 mil­lion on av­er­age from pri­vate in­sur­ers.

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