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Health and Environment Minister, Rudyard Spencer, said that the Government had to abolish public user fees for public health facilities, as a significant number of persons were unable to afford these fees, which proved an impediment to them accessing the services provided.
User fees were abolished in all public health institutions, save for the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), on April 1.
Speaking at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI) staff awards at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston on Thursday (Dec. 4), Mr. Spencer stated that public clinics and pharmacies saw sharp increases in the number of clients accessing the services subsequent to the abolition.
“Clinics and pharmacies, where people were writing and filling 48 and 50 prescriptions per day, with the same personnel, today, they are doing 98 and 105 prescriptions,” the Minister informed.
He further pointed out that in the case of one pharmacy, a day after the abolition came into effect, personnel at that facility reported receiving prescriptions from clients dating back to 2007. “What happened to those people… where were they? Waiting at home for something to happen,” Mr. Spencer lamented.
Describing the abolition as “the biggest success of the public sector in the last three decades”, Mr. Spencer stated that the statistics collated since the implementation was testament that the decision was the right one.
“Between April and September this year, hospital admissions increased by 9.8 per cent, moving from 78, 224 to 85, 927, when compared to the corresponding period last year. Laboratory tests increased by almost 29 per cent, moving from 1.41 million tests for the April to September 2007 period, to 1.82 million tests for the corresponding period this year,” he outlined.
Additionally, the Health Minister informed that x-rays conducted increased by 15 per cent, moving from 113,525 to 130,577.
Regarding fees collected prior to the abolition, Mr. Spencer said that at no point, while the charges were in effect, did revenue exceed 13 per cent of projections, noting that the figure has fallen as low as 11 per cent.
“So, indeed, what it would cost Jamaica to abolish user fees was a mere additional 12 per cent. So… all the reason why it (abolition) had to be done, because we have our hospitals and (health) centres flooding with people who, otherwise, would not have come. Jamaica could not afford not to have abolished user fees.
“I know that I asked a lot of my staff, when we implemented the policy. I know that they are stretched to the limit. We started doing some things to reduce the burden on them, and we will seek to do even more in the coming year. It (abolition) was a wise decision, and I want to thank all those who assisted in making it possible,” Mr. Spencer added.
Five employees of PAHO, and the CFNI, were presented with awards for 10 to 30 years of service. The awardees included PAHO’s representative in Jamaica, Dr. Ernest Pate, who was recognized for 15 years of service to the organization.