Health and Wellness Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, has disclosed that he will be heading to the United States next week, where several Memorandum of Understandings (MOU) are to be signed for local hospitals.
But, amid criticisms over the move by the Government to import nurses from the diaspora, Tufton has defended the decision, declaring that it will bring relief to patients waiting for extended periods for surgeries.
“I know there is a little backlash about whether or not we should be bringing in nurses into country, as opposed to fixing operating theatres, (and) whether we should be giving private sector work, as opposed to fixing and paying public sector nurses more, or doctors, where the cases may be,” he said.
“My view is that we have to find the optimal arrangement, given our objective of bringing relief to
Tufton was speaking at a ceremony where the Health and Wellness Ministry signed contracts with private hospitals at the Western Regional Health Authority’s office in St James, to facilitate elective surgeries in the public health system.
The surgeries will cost the Government some $70 million this year. The project is in the pilot phase, and persons selected will be among those waiting the longest for surgeries in the western health region. Based on the programme’s success, other health regions could benefit.
The minister outlined the other plans to further bring down the backlog of elective surgeries locally.
“Next week, I am off to the US, where we will be signing a few MOUs with a few hospitals, health systems, starting in Florida, then to New York (in the) Hartford area, which will see the other phase of the strategy materialising, where we will see some operating theatre nurses coming in to the public space,” said Tufton.
“One of the conversations we may need to have is whether or not they could come into private space also, but that’s another conversation that may have to take place,” he added.
Tufton reiterated that the healthcare professionals are experienced, and will work for short periods in the public health system locally.
“They are experienced, trained people, where they will be allowed some time to come in for a four or five days to work on a particular set of cases, and then go back to their substantive positions,” he indicated.
The recruitment of the healthcare professionals from overseas is being facilitated under the ministry’s CODE CARE programme, which is a project to improve the wait times for elective surgeries such as cataracts, oral and sinus cancers.
The announcement of the CODE CARE programme was first made by Tufton as he made his contribution to the 2022-2023 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives in May.
“Our special intervention this year, CODE CARE, will seek to do an additional 1,000 surgeries over the next 10 months to clear up most, if not all, backlogs,” the minister stated then.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a major backlog of elective surgeries locally.
Also part of the strategy will be the provision of approximately $300 million to repair and, where necessary, maintain the island’s operating theatres “to operate more efficiently and longer hours to drive”.
This is in addition to partnering with private sector health facilities to provide surgery and recovery spaces to augment the existing public facilities.