The Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA) is sounding the alarm that a lack of proper maintenance of important medical equipment and machines in the government-run healthcare system is likely to seriously undermine the quality of care offered to patients.
According to Dr. Marie Brown, 2nd Vice President of the Association, less than one per cent (of the healthcare budget) is allocated to maintenance of equipment.
"If we have one x-ray machine working in a hospital, and it is not being serviced, then very soon, it is going to stop working," she explained at last Friday's edition of the weekly RJR Group News Forum.
When that single x-ray machine stops working, "we either have to wait to get some maintenance person to fix that, or to get a new one," she said.
Dr. Brown contends that, if there was a proper maintenance system throughout all hospitals, "then we would be better able to have these functional equipment that are needed on a daily basis.”
Dr. Dane Miller, President of the JMDA, pointed to a number of other issues which he said were hampering the public healthcare system.
“There are deficiencies in radiologic investigation services in most institutions. With regards to patients receiving surgery, there’s a difficulty with that in terms of funding for whatever disposables, implants; there’s a difficulty in terms of that funding,” he said.
The Government's 'no user-fee' policy has been widely blamed, in part, for the scarcity of resources available to the state-run healthcare system.
Re-introduced by the last political administration, it has been maintained thus far by the succeeding administration, which had vowed to bring it to an end, citing the lack of adequate funding to support it. Two-and-a-half years into the life of this administration, however, the policy remains in force.
When RJR News sought a response, to the latest complaints, from Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson, he explained that the emphasis was now on pursuing options for universal health coverage, rather than simply abolishing the no user-fee policy.
Efforts were being made, he said, "to look at how can you find other areas that will help to fund the system that will allow for access for all."
He said the Ministry of Health had been engaged in widespread consultations for several months in order to arrive at the best approach for achieving this goal.
He reiterated that the government is aiming for full implementation of Universal Health Care by 2018.