Jamaica’s Public Healthcare Sector in Dire Crisis

Sheri-kae McLeod


KINGSTON, Jamaica – Many Jamaican immigrants living in the United States and the UK list the deplorable condition of the Jamaican health care system as one of the reasons they are fearful of returning home after retiring.

Jamaica’s Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, earlier this week, insisted that the country’s public health care system is successfully meeting the demands of Jamaicans, but despite his reports, the actual health care professionals, are singing a different tune.

Over the past week, several stories have come to light regarding the treatment of junior doctors, shortage of hospital equipment, and poor management affecting the country’s health care sector.

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Junior Doctors Being Sexual Harassed by Seniors

In a series of interviews conducted by the Jamaica Observer, a number of the island’s junior doctors revealed that they suffer constant sexual harassment in clinics and hospitals by their seniors who have long had the tradition of maintaining abuse in health care facilities.

“I have colleagues, both male and female, who have been sexually harassed by male consultants, but they are not going to say anything because being in the consultants’ good grace is very important.” said one doctor anonymously.

There have also been reports that doctors-in-training are being blocked from completing their studies because of failed personal relationships with their seniors.

When contacted for a comment on the many incidents, President of the Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA) Dr Elon Thompson, noted that it is very possible that doctors may face sexual harassment on the job, but a lot of the complaints have not been filed with the JMDA.

Patients Buying Because of Lack of Equipment

Along with having to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, doctors and nurses often complain about the lack of equipment in the island’s health facilities.

Several of the junior doctors interviewed have suggested that over the months that they have worked in hospitals across the island, they have lost several patients because of lack of equipment.

“These things happen all the time. We lose patients because we lack the necessary resources — it’s a known thing”, said one doctor. These “resources” include equipment and well as health professionals and other staff.

Another doctor confirmed that there was a significant shortage of equipment at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), which is the largest multidisciplinary hospital in the English-speaking Caribbean as well as the largest trauma center in Jamaica’s public hospital system.

“Brain Drain” Affecting Jamaica’s Health Care System

 In the past, Dr Tufton has acknowledged that “brain drain” has crippled the delivery of several health care services and has had a dramatic effect on the overall quality of health care in Jamaica. However, the problem is seemingly becoming much worse.

It is now a tradition for the island’s recently-graduated nurses to leaving the island, seeking jobs elsewhere. Poor working conditions along with even worse salaries and wage agreements have discouraged many health care professionals from wanting to work in Jamaica. Now, local doctors are feeling the effects of a limited support staff.

One Doctor at KPH revealed that at KPH, operations are slow in many sections because there aren’t enough nurses to care for patients. “Sometimes it falls on the doctors… [or] the patients end up not getting the care they need”, she said.

In a statement responding to the many allegations made by local doctors, Health Minister Tufton said that he and his ministry have plans to “revamp primary health care to reflect a new model” as well as re-examine staff allocations in the secondary care system to ensure “ human resources for health in sufficient numbers and competencies.”



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