Friday 28 February, 2020

Campbell questions $1-b spend for diagnostic services at private labs

Campbell... said it “appeared to be a divestment with the potential to be exploited by a few.”

Campbell... said it “appeared to be a divestment with the potential to be exploited by a few.”

Opposition Spokesman on Health, Dr Dayton Campbell has charged that the $1 billion being provided by the government to private laboratories to conduct diagnostic services for Jamaicans who use public health facilities, could be better spent elsewhere.

According to Campbell, the $1 billion will benefit a few at the expense of the masses. He made the comments on Tuesday while making his contribution to the 2019/2020 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives.

Campbell argued that while it was admirable, in that it will serve to reduce the wait time for surgeries by speeding up diagnoses, “we must question this spend”

“The problem that it seeks to remedy is that of long waiting hours and unavailable or inadequate access to diagnostics (but) the Ministry of Health already has in place a MOU with the providers of diagnostics tests,” Campbell noted. He stated that while the expansion in this area was welcomed, there is a grey area in the provision of surgical services.

To this end he stated that there are ethical concerns and the Opposition spokesman questioned whether the same doctors in the public sector will be the ones who will be doing the surgeries in the public/private partnership.

“How do we ensure that the people (public sector doctors) are not channeling the hospital work into their private practices?” he asked. He also questioned whether, after surgeries are done, patients will be sent to the public ward to recuperate.

Campbell asserted that the government was on a campaign to divest all sectors and questioned whether this was also being done in health.  He said it “appeared to be a divestment with the potential to be exploited by a few.”

And Campbell, himself a medical doctor, said there was limited accountability in the public sector with doctors often arriving at work late and leaving early with no audits done to determine the amount of time they actually spend on the job. He said this lack of accountability  has resulted in doctors doing private work on the government’s time.

“Won’t these doctors leave earlier to get the private money?  What incentive will they have to do the hospital work if they can go to the private session and make a sessional rate?” he asked.

Campbell further questioned why the $1 billion was not being spent to instead improve specific surgical centres in the public health system to carry out these surgeries. He noted that at most public hospitals with multiple operating theaters, only one is used at nights. He said it would be better to get the additional staff to ensure that one team is dealing with on-call cases while the other deals with the cases to reduce the waiting list.

“That seems like a very practical solution to me,” Campbell said.

He also suggested that doctors employed in the public sector should only be allowed to do private cases after 4:00 pm or on weekends. And he said the government could also have public cases done on weekends in private facilities.

Campbell also said the waiting lists are long because of government, hospital, personnel and patient issues. Government issues are usually related to inadequate funding while hospital issues relate to lack of supplies, equipment and things such as non-functioning elevators as well as doctors not showing up on time, he said.

“How can we ignore that to go to say we’re going to contract private places to provide the surgeries for these patients as opposed to improving the facilities in the public hospital?” he asked during a question-laden presentation.

The Opposition Spokesman also told the House that the air conditioning units at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), the largest hospital  in the English-speaking Caribbean, were not working on Monday, forcing the cancellation of the list of surgeries that were down for the day. He said, one week earlier, surgeries were also postponed at the KPH because of the absence of the appropriate anesthetic drugs. Additionally, he said surgeries were being postponed because patients are not being properly prepared by having things such as ECGs and radiology services done.

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