Cabinet Shuffles – Dr Fenton Ferguson No Longer Health Minister

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.

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“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 stigmatized. 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.

In some instances, cleaning agents were not labelled and the requirements for mixing and the stipulated concentrations are not documented, leaving the level of cleanliness a hit or miss.

Among the most stomach-turning findings of the probe is that at some maternity facilities women are forced to give birth in foul delivery rooms with exposure to faecal matter, which poses a health risk to their newborns and staff, because “enema is no longer provided by the pharmacies, hence women are delivered without”.

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The problem of inadequate or defective lighting in operating theatres, doors in need of replacement, and doors which cannot be fully closed compromising the sterility of the room, were also highlighted.

“The theater doors at the majority of facilities need urgent replacement. It is quite easy to see through the space between the doors when they are “closed”, compromising sterility in the rooms. Some doors have holes, hinges are rusted and others are infested with termites,” the report stated.

Fungus was found growing between the panes of glass in the window of the operating theatre at Spanish Town Hospital, while at Bustamante Hospital for Children, sterile instruments were being passed through the sluice room. This is where used disposables such as bedpans and other items, as well as human waste from bedlinen are dealt with.

In many instances, toilet paper and soap are not provided in patients’ bathrooms. It was found that people were using gauze for hand-drying due to the lack of hand towels. “This is penny wise and pound foolish,” the investigators said.

“Anaesthetists are resisting the wearing of facial masks in the operating room,” the report said of the Victoria Jubilee Hospital.

“There is one resuscitaire in the delivery room. On occasions more than one child has to be on the tray,” it further stated. This is a trolley with vital oxygen and ventilation facilities along with heaters which are used when a baby needs immediate support after delivery.

The facilities audited were: Spanish Town Hospital, Kingston Public Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital, Bustamante Hospital for Children, Victoria Jubilee Hospital, National Chest Hospital, St Ann’s Bay Hospital, Annotto Bay Hospital, Port Antonio Hospital, May Pen Hospital, Mandeville Regional Hospital, Santa Cruz Center of Excellence, Cornwall Regional Hospital, and Savanna-la-Mar Hospital. The quasi-public University Hospital of the West Indies, one of two hospitals which has been at the center of the baby deaths debacle, was not listed in any of the reports.

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