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The Ministry of Health is considering a proposal from the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) to abolish user fees for children, up to the age of 12 years, who use that institution.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Ruddy Spencer, said this has become necessary, as a study conducted after the abolition of user fees in public hospitals on April 1, 2008, showed a decline in admissions to the UHWI. The institution was not among the public hospitals when the Ministry abolished the payment of user fees by patients utilising these facilities.
Making his contribution to the 2009/10 Sectoral Debate in the House, yesterday (July 15), Mr. Spencer informed that while the Bustamante Hospital for Children experienced a 61 per cent increase in visits to the Accident and Emergency Unit, and an overall 17 per cent spike in admissions, the UHWI’s Child Health Department recorded a 16 per cent decline in admissions. User fees for children, up to age 18, at the Bustamante Hospital, were abolished in 2007.
In light of the decline at the UHWI, the Minister said the institution’s proposal would be considered.
Meanwhile, Mr. Spencer informed that since the universal abolition of user fees, persons utilising the institutions had saved some $2.2 billion in payments. He also pointed out that the number of persons accessing services at the institutions had increased significantly.
“The first year of abolition saw patient utilisation increasing from 809,925 to 904,726 or 11.7 per cent at Accident and Emergency Departments at public hospitals. Visits to the Accident and Emergency Department of the Kingston Public Hospital increased from 59,302 to 72,997 or just over 23 per cent in the abolition year, compared to the previous year. This compares to an 11.1 per cent decline at the UHWI, where the user fees were retained,” the Minister outlined.
Total admissions from Accident and Emergency Units, Mr. Spencer further told the House, increased from 166,684 to 173,703 in the abolition year, reflecting a 4.2 per cent increase. Additionally, he said preliminary figures show health centre visits moving from over 1.48 million to more than 1.8 million during the abolition year, a 17 per cent increase.
Pharmacy services, the Health Minister pointed out, recorded the highest increase in utilisation, moving from 145,395 in 2007/08 to 209,728 during the first year of abolition, reflecting a 44 per cent increase.