Jamaica: Free health stays
Dr Fenton Ferguson, minister of health, has said the Government’s no-user fees policy in the public-health system is under review. “It was never intended to remove the no-user fee policy,” Ferguson said. “What we will be doing in the first three months, then six months to a year, is to review it. We have put that high on the agenda for review because I have stated on many occasions that it was this (PNP) administration that introduced the removal of user fees for children 0-18 years,” he added. Last year, the then opposition People’s National Party renewed calls for the Government to review its no-user fees policy in the public-health system. “After two years and nine months, it’s clear that the policy has failed,” said Ferguson, in his role as opposition spokesman on health. He cited issues such as the long waiting time, limited bed space in hospitals, inadequate supplies of medication and poor infrastructure as indications of the failure. Batting for the system last week, Ferguson stressed that the point of focus under his watch would be primary health care to ease the burden on the larger hospitals. “We have made it very clear that primary health care is going to be the point of focus even as we continue the pursuits relative to secondary health care,” Ferguson told The Sunday Gleaner. Reports out of the health sector throughout the life of the policy have stated that larger hospitals have been buckling under the pressure of a spike in the number of persons rushing to these institutions to benefit from free health care. Complaints have also reportedly increased as the weight of the no-user fee policy at public hospitals has reportedly placed tremendous pressure on public pharmacies islandwide. “We want to build a strong primary health care system which is a community-based delivery service, closer to people’s homes and, therefore, more affordable for the average patient,” said Ferguson. In relation to the lingering debt of the cash-strapped health sector, particularly for medical supplies and equipment, Ferguson said he planned to continue to pursue the arrangements he inherited from the former administration to access pharmaceutical products, most of which are generic in nature, in bulk, from India. “We will be reviewing the process and I will be having further consultations with these organisations,” he said. This is a big item relative to government’s policy pursuits, so we will be pursuing these arrangements anywhere that we can to get the best investments relative to getting pharmaceuticals at a reasonable cost.” The new minister disclosed that the debt he inherited in the health ministry now stands at J$2.69 billion to creditors and suppliers.