JAMAICA – About-turn
Minister of Health delays release of health system audit
KINGSTON –– Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson yesterday promised to release the findings of an audit on the status of the health system amidst public pressure for the disclosure. But the release will not happen until after a planned national broadcast on Sunday night.
The embattled health minister made the announcement at a contract signing in Kingston, two days after the opposition Jamaica Labour Party released excerpts of the leaked audit at a mass rally in Clarendon.
“I will be releasing the audit of the regional health authorities. I will give a fulsome response to both the Press and the public in a broadcast to the nation on Sunday night,” he said, adding that he would use the time to make further announcements in relation to the way forward.
The minister’s announcement was an about-turn to a stance taken in September when he insisted, at a Press conference, that the report would not be made public as it would lead to public prejudices against some health institutions.
Since then there have been calls for the release of the report, which heightened after it was revealed that several premature babies had died from health-associated infections at the University Hospital of the West Indies and Cornwall Regional Hospital since June.
On Sunday night, opposition spokesman on finance Audley Shaw said the report mentioned the outbreak of the infections at hospitals, despite the minister’s insistence that he only became aware of the situation in October.
Yesterday, Ferguson said that the findings were being made public after “consultations” and that the decision was made to prevent further misinformation coming to the public and in keeping with openness and transparency.
“We took an early position as a team that we would hold these audits. We did consultations with several groups and we felt, coming out of those consultations, that we should produce on what is unfolding,” Ferguson said.
In reference to the opposition questioning his credibility, Ferguson said it was clear the matter was becoming the centre of the opposition’s political campaign.
“Our affairs are related to the hospitals that were audited [and] still remain the affairs relative to persons demonizing our institutions. We have noted the private sector organizations and other organizations that have expressed their own views in relation to being open,” he said.
“Those persons would remember that when we had the press briefing we spoke to some of the critical issues in the audit and we also gave a summary of the audit,” he added.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s contract signing, which took place at Knutsford Court Hotel, for the design and equipping of 11 maternal and neonatal high-dependency units in six hospitals.
The contracts, valued at $253.1 million, are part of the $2.9 billion Programme For The Reduction Of Maternal And Child Mortality, which is funded by the European Union.
The allocations include approximately $61.9 million for design services for the maternal and neonatal high-dependency units at Victoria Jubilee, Mandeville Regional, Cornwall Regional, Bustamante Hospital for Children, Spanish Town and St Ann’s Bay Regional hospitals; $13.53 million for design services for four primary care centres –– Savanna-La-Mar, St Jago Park, Mandeville Comprehensive and Annotto Bay health centres and two community hospitals –– Alexandria and Chapelton; $85.5 million for the purchase of six specialised ambulances to carry both mother and baby and $95.5 million for equipment for Mandeville Regional Hospital’s neonatal
high-dependency units and ambulances. Also, arrangements are being made to procure equipment for ten remaining high-dependency units.
A memorandum of understanding valued at $39.4 million was also signed with the National Family Planning Board for the improvement of health-seeking behaviour among females.