Users of Public Health Facilities Urged to Make Use of Complaints Process


Persons who are dissatisfied with the services they receive at public health facilities are being encouraged to make full use of the mechanisms that are in place to resolve customer complaints, instead of routing their concerns through the media.
According to Regional Technical Director for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Dr. Michael Coombs, much of the negativity that comes to the fore when persons take their grievances to the public, can be prevented through use of these procedures.
He explains that in the year 2000, the Ministry of Health (MoH), under the Public Sector Modernisation Plan, developed a Client Charter to facilitate prompt, efficient investigation of client complaints in the public health care sytem. This involved the development of standards and guidelines to monitor service delivery, through a decentralised complaint mechanism, offered both at the central and sub-national levels.
A Clients Charter, Dr. Coombs explains, is an agreement between the facility offering the service and its potential and existing customers. It outlines the expectations of both parties and assures a certain quality standard of care.
“Persons have a right if they think that they have not received the quality of care that they believe they ought to have received, to submit complaints,” he continues.
However, though persons can utilise this Clients Charter to seek redress, not many persons are cognizant of its existence. “It is not uncommmon that the mechanism has not being implemented correctly (and) they perhaps may have felt that they were not well received and had difficulty getting information and so they might resort to taking it to the media,” Dr. Coombs states.
There are four levels at which persons who are displeased with service delivery in the public health care system can seek rectification. Complaints may be channelled through the specific health facility where health care was delivered; at the parish level; through the Regional Health Authorities; or, at the national level, through the Ministry of Health.
If an individual feels that they have been unfairly treated, the SERHA Technical Director recommends documenting complaints in writing as the first course of action. This is passed to the first recipent, called the First Receiver. “Any of the pulic health nurses or any member of staff in fact can receive the complaint in writing,” he points out. Following this an investigation begins.
“We would encourage persons to document their complaint in a written report and to be as specific as possible about their experience. There are some places that have suggestion boxes or they can communicate this to the Chief Executive Officer at a hospital, the Parish Managers or in the case of a Health Centre it would be a Medical Officer of Health,” he notes.
The total resolution time of issues varies and depends largely on the level at which the grievance is resolved. “After the First Receiver gets the documented complaint, it is assessed and then classified as critical, major or minor, based on the implications as a threat to life or if there is the possibility of litigation or not,” he explains. Based on the classification of the complaint, it is acknowledged within at least two weeks. If the situation is considered critical, a response is issued within 48 hours.
If the complaint is not resolved at the facility level, it is taken a step further to the level of the Parish Manager who meets with the respective health care providers involved. The client is then advised of the outcome and the steps that will be taken to prevent or minimise the recurrence of such a situation.
If the client is still dissatisfied at this level, it moves to the level of the Regional Health Authority. If no resolution is reached, it is taken to the national level, where the officials from the Ministry of Health are asked to intervene.
One user of the public health care system acknowledges benefitting from the Client Charter mechanism. Novelette Johnson recounts visting the Mandeville Public Hospital in 2009 for a health condition, and displeased at the level of service received there, she asked to speak to a senior doctor. “I felt like I should make a complaint so as to set things right,” she states.
She was advised to put her complaint in writing, and using this avenue, provided details of her grievance. Miss Johnson informs that within a week and a half she was called by authorites of the hospital. “I happened to speak to three doctors in a meeting. It was quite good. they apologised to me for what had happened,” she recounts.
Dr. Coombs believes that like Miss Johnson, many other clients of the public health system can benefit from the mechanisms in place to address grievances.
“It is a fact that many persons are not aware of this complaints mechanism as a part of the client’s charter. We need the public to be aware that there is such a mechanism and it is within their rights to utilise it,” he emphasises.

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