Only be­cause it is free!

Sur­vey shows per­sons only use pub­lic hos­pi­tals be­cause of no user fees

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Anas­ta­sia Cun­ning­ham News Co­or­di­na­tor anas­ta­sia.cun­ning­ham@glean­erjm.com

THEY MAY not like it but they make use of it be­cause it’s free. That’s the view of the av­er­age Ja­maican about why they use pub­lic hos­pi­tals. In a Gleaner-com­mis­sioned poll con­ducted re­cently by Johnson Sur­vey Re­search Ltd, Ja­maicans con­tin­ued to com­plain bit­terly about the poor state of the health-care sys­tem, but a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age say they con­tinue to use it be­cause of the nouser-fee pol­icy.

Polling 1,200 men and women be­tween ages 18 and 65 and over dur­ing the month of Septem­ber, the sur­vey sought to gauge Ja­maicans’ view of the health-care sys­tem and the im­prove­ments needed.

Twenty per cent said the main rea­son they felt Ja­maicans had ac­cess to goodqual­ity health care was be­cause “health care is free to ev­ery­one”, while 22 per cent said what they liked about the coun­try’s health-care sys­tem was “free health care, no user fees”. Ad­di­tion­ally, 10 per cent said they liked the idea that they could get treat­ment at pub­lic hos­pi­tals with or with­out money, and seven per cent said they wel­comed the free, in­ex­pen­sive med­i­ca­tion.

CRIT­I­CAL IS­SUES

But gen­er­ally, a high per­cent­age be­moaned the poor ser­vice; long wait times; ap­palling treat­ment from staff; ter­ri­ble, out­dated, filthy fa­cil­i­ties; in­ad­e­quate re­sources; and short­age of staff, med­i­cal sup­plies, equip­ment and med­i­ca­tion as some of the crit­i­cal is­sues they had with pub­lic health care.

Ever since the Gov­ern­ment abol­ished user fees in pub­lic hos­pi­tals in 2008, it has been a con­tentious is­sue. Many have ex­pressed the view that health care has got worse since the abo­li­tion, as the Gov­ern­ment failed to im­ple­ment the nec­es­sary sys­tems to make up for the short­fall in rev­enue, which led to in­ad­e­quate re­sources to deal with the in­crease in num­bers that were now mak­ing use of the free ser­vice.

The strong be­lief has been that ‘those who can pay, should pay’ be­cause free health care was not sus­tain­able and only led to a more in­ef­fec­tive, in­ef­fi­cient sys­tem. The sur­vey re­vealed that al­though the no-user-fee pol­icy led to in­creased use of pub­lic health ser­vices – par­tic­u­larly among the poor – the lack of fund­ing re­sulted in poor ser­vice, over­worked staff, lack of sup­plies, lack of proper equip­ment, among other things. Hence, al­though more per­sons were seek­ing health care, they were un­able to get proper, qual­ity health care. “We have a lot more per­sons com­ing to the hos­pi­tals, a lot more per­sons want­ing the free med­i­ca­tion. More per­sons are just show­ing up for the least lit­tle thing that they wouldn’t have come for, but be­cause it is free they just come,” pub­lic health nurse Karen McKen­zie, who has worked at three of the is­land’s hos­pi­tals in the last 17 years, told The Sun­day Gleaner.

“When they stopped charg­ing user fees, you would not be­lieve the num­ber of per­sons who started show­ing up. Way more than we used to see. But we never got more sup­plies to deal with it. We were still get­ting the same amount of sup­plies to take care of more peo­ple. The phar­ma­cies didn’t even start to get more med­i­ca­tion. And this is what we have been com­plain­ing about. I’m not against per­sons get­ting free health care, but the Gov­ern­ment must give us what we need to deal with the in­crease, and that must also in­clude more nurses.”

The sur­vey re­vealed that al­though the no-user-fee pol­icy led to in­creased use of pub­lic health ser­vices – par­tic­u­larly among the poor – the lack of fund­ing re­sulted in poor ser­vice, over­worked staff, lack of sup­plies, lack of proper equip­ment, among other things.

Some Ja­maicans will tol­er­ate the frus­tra­tions at pub­lic hos­pi­tals only be­cause of the no-user-fee pol­icy.

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