JIS News

The Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) and the Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA), two leading health organisations, have come out in support of the free health care policy for children, which was implemented yesterday (May 28).
President of the MAJ, Dr. Alverston Bailey, said that the Association has always maintained that the user fees imposed on patients using health care facilities were burdensome and impacted negatively on health care delivery for the poor and vulnerable in the society. “We unequivocally applaud the government’s decision to review the user fees protocol and anticipate that this is the beginning of a fundamental policy shift to reform the health sector,” he said, at the launch of the free health care policy for 18 year olds and under at the Bustamante Hospital for Children on May 28.
“We anticipate that this will alleviate the significant strain that so many of our poor and vulnerable have had to endure for the past seven years,” he added.
However, while agreeing that user fees have played a critical role in defraying the cost of providing health care to the public, Dr. Bailey said any change in the user fee regime should be approached with caution, because adjustment in fees could impose significant strain on the already challenged health sector, which might be overwhelmed with a significant influx of patients, who try to access services.
“The Ministry must ensure that there is significant improvement in the staffing of these facilities, improvement in the physical plant, enhanced diagnostic equipment, supplies and sundries and that, the income lost by the institution will have to reimbursed in real time to prevent the disruption of health care that may occur,” he argued.
Supporting the policy also at the launch was President of the JMDA, Dr. Myrton Smith, who noted that the removal of user fees for children would result in increased access to health care for a particularly vulnerable and needy subsection of the society.
“As an Association of medical practitioners we endorse and applaud any initiative that will increase access to health care for our fellow Jamaicans. Whether this increased access will result in increased utilisation will only become apparent with time,” Dr. Smith said.
“The tendency has been for us to focus on the impact that this [new policy] will have on the Bustamante Hospital for Children, but in a country where greater than 20 per cent of our children are born to teenage mothers, it [new policy] will also affect facilities that also provide anti-natal care. Hopefully, this will also serve to further improve our health indices, such as maternal and infant mortality rates,” he continued.
Dr. Smith also reasoned that with the expected shortfall in revenue for health facilities, the government had to ensure that it could sustain the required level of expenditure in the medium and the long term, “especially at a time when improvement and modernization of the health service is critical.”
“There must also be adequate medical, nursing, administrative and other support staff to deal with any increase in utilization,” he urged, and “we hope that this will provide the necessary incentive for the government to review and revise the cadre of staff in the public health sector.”
On behalf of his Association, Dr. Smith pledged to continue to work assiduously to deliver the highest standard of care possible within the present constraints and challenges.
“We will not sacrifice quality for quantity regardless of any increase in utilisation of services. To the public, we advise that free does not mean hasty, and in order for the system to run smoothly, there needs to be a system of mutual understanding between patients and health care providers,” he reminded.
Dr. Smith also pointed out that the new policy presented a golden opportunity for private entities, whether individual or corporate, to make even greater contributions to health care in Jamaica.
“If success is to be guaranteed, such partnerships between the public and the private sector will be necessary,” he emphasised.
Under the new policy, diagnostic service fees, hospital stay fees, doctor’s fees, drugs at the hospital and surgeries are among services that will be provided free by the government health facilities, except the University Hospital of the West Indies.

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