This article was originally posted on LinkedIN on June 1, 2021.
Healthcare workers (HCWs) have been through a lot during the Covid 19 pandemic, with preexisting issues amplified by the strain on the health care system and its resources- both human and non human. During the last year there has been a spotlight on health care, this includes those who work in it and the overall system. The Jamaican public is getting a first hand look at what is happening and the massive need for systemic improvement and investment.
In recent weeks healthcare workers were taken for a spin when word of a 40% cut to the budget was made public- news that was later retracted and corrected (link no longer works). However, the damage was already done.
In a memorandum sent out by the CEO of one of the public hospitals the first line spoke to the budget cut. The rest of the memo asked that heads of departments start looking for ways to cut down on costs. The first suggested area had to do with overtime, sessional duties and allowances as it accounted for a large portion of the budget. This continued throughout the memo, suggesting cutting down on travelling costs and to crack down on staff absenteeism. One line said “plan how to utilise your human resources so patient care will not be compromised while you reduce expenditure”. There was also mention of areas of improvement in regards to non human resources, such as cutting down on wastage.
Without posting the memorandum itself, from the above paragraph you can see how those who would be affected most- i.e healthcare workers- would have a bitter taste in their mouth. Does this mean if there was reduction in funding that the first place fat would be trimmed is from healthcare workers?
During the last year HCWs have been faced with uncertainty and have experienced professional and personal challenges. Many are burnt out because of the added strain on the health care system because of Covid 19. Teams that were already short are faced with colleagues having to stay at home because of exposure to covid 19, there’s increased patient load for many teams and challenges with accessing resources such as personal protective equipment, lab reagents among others.
Now, HCWs are considering leaving public sector, the profession or the country. As such, Jamaica will continue to lose front line workers, as we have seen with many of our nurses taking the opportunity to migrate, a trend that might soon affect our doctors. What can Jamaica do to prevent the potential mass exodus from public health care, burn out and over all dissatisfaction of their HCWs? A start would be valuing HCWs and making them, along with the health care system, a higher priority.
If the first place to cut expenses is from human resources, an area that is already stretched thin, it doesn’t help with rapport or confidence. With both already low, this has added another blow to an already fragile foundation.
Fixing the healthcare system and the relationship with HCWs will take prolonged and consistent effort. It will take innovation and a real look at our resources as a country and the desired quality of health care. More public private partnerships are needed and improved efficiency with less wastage of resources that we do have. Resources are never wasted on adequate compensation of staff and is not the first place to look. Instead, audits of where money is going and how it can be used better is important.
Over the last 2 years, HCW and healthcare system issues have been consistently in the media. For that time the messaging has been consistent, that HCWs are not prioritised as highly as they should be. This will continue to affect the overall health delivery of the country, something that cannot be compromised during a global pandemic… or ever really.
Samantha C. Johnson