Minister of Health, Donville Inniss (fourth from left) in discussions with some of the doctors of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. 

In an effort at continuing dialogue with the health sector, Minister of Health, Donville Inniss, recently held a series of consultations with staff of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) to discuss challenges facing that institution and ways to resolve them.

Following consultations with heads of clinical departments, junior doctors and the Board of Management, the Health Minister pointed out that in the coming financial year issues of human resource management would be given priority and management systems reviewed to determine where technology could be appropriately introduced.

He said: “My position is to continue such dialogue with as many departments and individuals in the QEH not just to dialogue with the Board or top management, but being cognisant of the fact that each department brings its own perspective; to hear what the issues are and to see how we can work in a very team-like approach to resolve a lot of issues at the QEH.”

In addition to staffing issues, a number of key areas were also discussed by the groups, including lack of cafeteria facilities to serve the needs of staff and relatives of patients; inadequate lounge space for doctors; and insufficient technology at all levels of the hospital.

With respect to cafeteria facilities, Mr. Inniss said a place had been identified for such an establishment and the Chief Executive Officer would discuss it with the staff. He noted that in the interim there would be a need for temporary arrangements for meals: “It is a security risk and unreasonable for staff and doctors to have to leave the compound to get a meal late at night,” he said.

The issue of lounge space was of interest to junior doctors and consultants who noted that although improvements had been made, there were inadequate bathroom facilities and few beds. The Minister of Health noted that: “Ideally, we would like to have a large lounge with adequate sleeping and bathroom facilities… but the harsh reality is that the QEH as it stands now does not have the space to do that, so we have to maximize whatever we have … This will be considered, when we construct a new hospital.”  

Stating that such a lounge was also important for doctors to meet and discuss issues, he added, “I also believe that doctors should be able to congregate and network on site.”

Heads of departments welcomed the need for more staff and this was approved by the Minister, who acknowledged that key positions in Human Resources (HR) would soon be filled and a holistic approach to staffing undertaken, including a review of HR systems. 

“This thing about planning for other departments without their involvement should come to an end,” the Minister added.

He stressed that additional staff and funding were not the sole solution. “We need better management of these resources, if not we are wasting time and money.”
Heads voiced concerns that the QEH, which provided a 24-hour service, was not functioning optimally, with vital departments only operating on an eight-hour basis. It was stated that, as a result, staff were forced work overtime. To this end, it was suggested that additional staff should be hired and a shift system introduced, particularly in the laboratory, X-ray department and pharmacy.

Discussion also centred around the role of the University of the West Indies as a training partner and the need to maintain standards in health care at the QEH. Minister Inniss, in acknowledging that the quality of health care delivered to patients was enhanced by the fact that the institution was also a teaching facility said, “With improved medical training, would come better medical care.” 

Junior doctors also raised concerns about staffing and particularly low morale. It was pointed out that although there were 20 or more interns graduating each year and being attached to the QEH, they were deciding not to stay. In providing an explanation, a representative from the Junior Doctors Association explained that: “More and more of them are leaving and going overseas since they see no way for academic or professional improvement by staying.” 

The consultations also brought to the fore the need for the QEH to manage its limited resources given the economic down turn. In light of this, Minister Inniss noted that: “There would have to be some belt tightening at all levels. I don’t intend to have any compromising on the delivery of patient care services. For now, we have to do much better with the resources we have.”

Additionally, the various entities underscored the point that every effort would be made to ensure that patient care must continue to be a key priority now and in the future and that individuals visiting the QEH facility would receive the best possible care.

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