BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS Senior staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org Saturday, November 07, 2015
PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller yesterday reassigned Dr Fenton Ferguson from the health ministry to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in an obvious attempt to stanch the haemorrhage from the dead babies scandal that has been rocking her Administration since October 16.
The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) made the announcement in a news release yesterday afternoon, shortly after the health ministry bowed to public pressure and released the full results of an audit of the public health system that Ferguson and his technocrats had kept under lock and key for just over two months.
The OPM said that Ferguson will be replaced by Horace Dalley, currently the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance, while Derrick Kellier, who had responsibility for labour and social security, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, will continue to lead the latter.
The changes take effect next Monday, November 9.
According to the OPM, Simpson Miller made the Cabinet changes after listening "to the recent discussions and expressions of concern, some of which could have the effect of distracting from the very important focus of economic and social reforms", adding that "the country must be united in purpose so as to ensure that the positive path that Jamaica is on will not be disrupted in any way".
But in a swift response, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness said all that the prime minister has done is merely shield her minister by shifting accountability and responsibility away from him.
"The prime minister's actions show a very high tolerance and patience with failure and underperformance, which places the health and security of the people of Jamaica at risk," Holness said.
"The minister should have been removed a long time ago. The fact is that Minister Ferguson's performance and execution of his duties as the minister of health do not recommend him to continue to hold any ministerial office in any Cabinet," Holness added.
"We expect that, having released the report, the prime minister should hold to account other chief personnel and political appointees responsible for the shortcomings in policy and administration. This will set an example of accountability, not just in the Ministry of Health, but throughout the entire Government," he said.
The audit confirmed media reports, from as early as May this year, of a health system on the brink of collapse with hospitals lacking equipment vital for surgeries and doctors working in substandard conditions that pose serious risk to patients and themselves.
The health officials had refused to publish the full report of the audit, claiming that public hospitals would be stigmatised. Calls for Dr Ferguson to step down and for the reports to be made public reached fever pitch since news emerged three weeks ago that 19 premature babies died from bacterial infections between June and September this year at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew and Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay.
The probe of high risk areas of public health facilities has backed up anecdotal reports from poor Jamaicans who have no choice but to seek medical care at these institutions.
Among the findings in the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) are the reuse of disposable tubes and airways. "Chemicals will disrupt the surface of the plastic tubing and create pockets for organisms to attach and multiply. A number of these items were seen hanging to be dried after "cleaning" and then just placed unwrapped in drawers or hung on hooks," the SERHA report said.
It was also found that there was an extreme shortage of small items of equipment for the delivery of maternity patients, such as thermometers, forceps, foetal stethoscopes, and cord clamps.
"The National Health Fund's supply of drugs, and particularly antibiotics, needs to be reviewed, as the majority of facilities are experiencing critical shortages. This is currently compromising patient care," the auditors further said.
Additionally, it was discovered that janitorial staff are not provided with utility gloves and there is no cleaning schedule at a number of facilities. more