Health Ministry to spend $1 billion on social cases, reduced waiting time for hospital services

The Ministry of Health and Wellness is to invest a billion dollars into efforts designed to yield a reduction on the waiting time for diagnostic services and specific surgeries in public health facilities.

“I am happy to announce that this year, the Government will respond to the long waits for certain day and inpatient surgeries, diagnostic tests, and bed space shortages by allocating J$1 Billion for an immediate and extraordinary intervention in these areas,” Health Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton said in his Sectoral presentation on Tuesday (May 7, 2019).

Some patients wait for more than a year for general surgeries, such as hernia. For other procedures, such as hysterectomies or myomectomies, some wait for over 10 months. For surgeries, including radical prostatectomy, some wait for more than six months.

“Frankly speaking, long waiting times make a farce of free health care and the concept of universal access to health care. We have to intervene and fix it,” Tufton said.

Among other things, the billion dollars is to see to the creation of a more efficient record of all requests for these services in the public health sector, and the contracting of private providers, where necessary, to enhance what is already on offer.

The allocated funds are also to support the more efficient management of bed spaces in hospitals.

“The large number of social cases in the system is as a result of persons who are fit, clinically, for discharge from the hospital, but who remain because their relatives have failed to claim them,” the minister explained.

“The result is that new patients – those in need of admission services – are denied access since the beds are occupied by those persons who remain in the facilities for extended periods, or otherwise live, quite literally, there,” he added.

It is estimated that one social case can prevent occupancy by at least 49 patients in any one year. Currently, there are 197 social cases in hospitals across the island, amounting to some 9,653 Jamaicans being unable to access in-patient care annually.

“We cannot simply turn these individuals out on to the streets; and oftentimes the infirmaries, which are operated under the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, do not have the space to accommodate them,” Tufton said.

“I want to thank Minister (Desmond) McKenzie and a number of local municipalities for the collaboration over the last year in removing social cases to State-run infirmaries, but the truth is the space is just not there. We, therefore, have to look at alternative approaches,” he added.

Those approaches include holding family members accountable to take care of their relatives.

“In many instances, these social cases have assets, such as houses and other property that are being used by these relatives, and when they pass on, they show up at the hospital asking for the death certificate to claim these assets. This is despite having left them for the State to take care of them while they were alive,” Tufton noted.

It is against this background that the Ministry is to investigate social cases who are occupying needed beds to determine the capacity of their next of kin to care for them.

“Where necessary, we will also take court action to compel those persons to assume responsibility for their family members. Where these social cases are assessed as infirm, we will transfer them to an appropriate facility, either in the public sector or through some other mechanism that we will agree on and arrange with the Ministry of Local Government, municipal corporations, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security,” the minister told Parliament.