Government Steadfast With Plans To Improve Health Sector

Photo: JIS Photographer Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson (standing), interacts with residents of St. Catherine during the eighth in a series of consultations on health financing, on the grounds of the Spanish Town Hospital, in St. Catherine, on July 9.

The Government remains steadfast with plans to effect significant changes to the country’s health care sector, as it strives to create a first world system, Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, says.

He notes that a balance between accessibility and optimal care must be the hallmark of Jamaica’s health care sector.

The Minister was addressing residents of St. Catherine on July 9, during the eighth in a series of consultations on health financing, held on the grounds of the Spanish Town Hospital.

“We believe that the provision of quality and affordable health care services and improvement in access can help us to achieve our national development objectives,” the Minister said.

Among the changes to be made, he said, is the implementation of a referral system for persons seeking treatment in hospitals. Under this arrangement, individuals would be referred to the primary health system, such as clinics and health centres.

The referral system is being established to reduce unnecessary costs at the secondary and tertiary level. In this vein, the Government is seeking to revitalise the primary health care system, which is considered the priority sector.

As such, the Ministry of Health, since last year, started work on four regional Centres of Excellence at the primary care level. Dr. Ferguson noted that work is far advanced on three of these specialised facilities, which are located at the Isaac Barrant Centre in St. Thomas; the Santa Cruz Health Centre in St. Elizabeth; and Darliston Health Centre in Westmoreland.

He informed that Government will be breaking ground “very soon” for an additional centre in Claremont, St. Ann. “These four Centres of Excellence will represent best practice in terms of primary health care in the country’s four regional health authorities,” the Minister said.

Other initiatives to improve the country’s health care system, Dr. Ferguson said, involves “closing the gap” which now exists as it relates to a shortage of the necessary health care professionals in the public sector.

He explained that while the Government aims to improve this aspect of the system, it must resort to the temporary recruitment of some health care professionals, including primary care nurses and doctors from Cuba.

“Shortly we will be bringing in some dentists to help to close the gap. We will also be bringing in three pathologists very soon to help improve the turn-a-round time with respect to the examination of specimen and delivery of results from the National Public Health Lab. All of these are temporary arrangements, but must be done in the short run, if we are to alleviate the problems our people face,” Dr. Ferguson said.

The Minister informed that within another month, there will be an additional 44 Cuban medical personnel in the public health sector including 29 nurses, eight doctors (including three pathologists), six dentists and one cytology technician.

Additionally, the Ministry has also worked to upgrade and improve the services at more than 100 health centres across the island. Dr. Ferguson informed that this year, the Government completed work on 20 health centres at a cost of some $54.8 million.

The Minister further pointed out that one of the Government’s main objectives is to find sustainable means of generating revenue to finance the public health sector.

Dr. Ferguson noted that the ideal is for at about 10 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to be committed to health care. Jamaica currently commits approximately 4.7 per cent.

He pointed out that whatever model of financing the Government adopts for the public health system, must be one that is not only sustainable, but also encourages a balance between access and quality care.

“There is no point in saying we want to create access at the expense of quality,” the Minister emphasized.

Dr. Ferguson noted that this is the main aim of the public consultations, which form part of Government’s efforts to review the no user fee policy, but also aim to look broadly at options to finance the public health sector.

The Government has so far completed eight consultations, including talks with the Opposition Spokesman on Health, Dr. Ken Baugh, health groups and associations, staff of the Ministry of Health and other internal stakeholders and members of the public in all four Health Regions.

According to the Minister, among the possible streams of revenue for the health sector is the provision of specialist services within the public system at a competitive cost.

“Services such as plastic surgery, or going beyond the normal fillings and extractions, such as cosmetic dentistry, will be used as streams for those who can afford to pay,” he said.

Other measures to be considered, according to the Government, include strengthening the billing mechanism to maximise revenue from payments by private insurance companies, addressing inefficiencies in drug procurement and distribution, and developing a mechanism to institute 24-hour per day service delivery.

Dr. Ferguson pointed out that as part of plans to improve health financing in Jamaica, the Government will be introducing a Government of Jamaica (GOJ) Health Card on a phased basis.

He noted that the introduction of the unique card will yield significant benefits through efficiencies in service delivery and overall patient care. The GOJ Health Card will be tied to the individual’s Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN). The Ministry, through the National Health Fund (NHF) will facilitate a simplified and on-going registration process and the card will facilitate better monitoring and identification.

The card will also take into account private health insurance, so that instances where charges arise can be adequately and quickly covered, he said.

“The GOJ card will, by a single swipe, identify persons who have health insurance, so we are not going to be depending on the honesty of patients or clients to tell us whether you have insurance or not,” the Minister stated. The card will also help hospital staff identify PATH beneficiaries, he informed.

Another source of income for the public health sector, which is being considered, is the introduction of private wards, the Minister said.

“We have also taken the policy decision that in hospitals across the country, where there is the possibility, we will look at private wards as an option for revenue that will offset the most vulnerable in our society,” he said.

Contact: Athaliah Reynolds-Baker

JIS Social