The Government of Jamaica (GOJ) has taken a clear policy position to focus on strengthening the primary health care system, in its thrust to lessen the burden that is placed on hospitals in the island.
Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, explains that there is an urgent need for citizens to use the services offered at primary care facilities where the trained public health officers are equipped to provide educational services that encourages the development of healthy lifestyle habits among citizens.
“It is also a fact, in relation to primary health care, that the focus is not only on the curative side of health, but also on the preventative side of health,” the Minister tells JIS News in an interview.
Dr. Ferguson emphasises that the Government is committed to employing programmes that facilitate the prevention of disease processes, rather than focusing only on curative health care.
“If you have the flu, you really shouldn’t be going to the hospital unless you have been left uncared for (over a period of time), and have developed other complications that now take you to a hospital setting,” the Minister adds.
Dr. Ferguson informs that the main functions of primary care facilities include the provision of immunizations, maternal and child care, public health education, making referrals as well as administering treatment for conditions associated with ‘minor’ illnesses, such as influenza.
Emphasising the importance of primary health care, Dr. Ferguson says, “we (the Government) believe that it is a better fit for any population if you have a working primary care system,” noting that this would not occur at the detriment of the secondary care system.
Assessing the current situation, the Minister states that 80 per cent of the population is utlising the health centres, while individuals in the remaining 20 per cent have been going to the hospitals to seek treatment for even the most minor injuries.
In these cases, there is an enormous cost associated with the treatment of patients in the hospitals as opposed to treatment applied in the primary care facilities. As such, the Government is encouraging individuals to seek care at the primary level first, rather than moving straight to the hospital system, except where severe illnesses have occurred.
Importantly, Dr. Ferguson reiterates that secondary health care institutions have been mandated to deal with the more advanced type of illnesses. “You really want to get your hospitals concentrating on the surgeries, your diagnostics and your referrals,” he said, pointing to the fact that it is also pertinent that there exists a seamless referral system in primary care facilities.
When the referral system is in place, once an individual visits the health centre, the nurse or the doctor that is administering care should be able to decipher whether that individual can be treated at the centre or if he/she would be better served at the hospital.
Dr. Ferguson indicates there are over 317 health centres located in many communities across the island, and that many of these centres are in urgent need of repair.
“I have a responsibility to ensure that there is improvement at the primary level, as it relates to staffing, medication, and the diagnostic process, in due course,” the Minister says, highlighting that “when this is done and a patient goes to the primary care centre, he or she is not really missing the hospital.”
The Minister notes that the Government desires to make health an area of social good. This, he says, requires the communal participation of all Jamaicans, as a community centred approach is required to rebuild the primary care system, which will lead to the enhancement of the health sector.
Dr. Ferguson is urging the entire population to use the primary care facilities in a conscious effort to decrease the burden placed on hospitals, in addition to the enormous costs associated with secondary treatment.
By Toni-Ann Russell, JIS Reporter