Social problems to be integrated into health ministry's plan
- Ramsammy

Stabroek News
April 23, 2001

The Ministry of Health is putting together a patient rights charter and minister Leslie Ramsammy says social problems - drug abuse, alcoholism, smoking and suicide - will be integrated fully into government's efforts.

Dr Ramsammy told Stabroek News that during his Chairmanship of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation his idea for a patient rights charter (PRC) was resisted and now he is happy that it is closer to being adopted.

The PRC, he explained, will put certain direct responsibilities on the hospital staff to treat patients properly. This means that patients can demand, for instance, to know the name of the doctor or nurse attending to them to be able to identify them should a problem arise.

"There is much more we can do in extending ourselves from just merely providing medication..." Dr Ramsammy said.

"It means that doctors will have to spend more time with patients."

But the humbug is the staff shortage plaguing the health care sector, as with other social sectors. "It is unreasonable again to have a patient rights charter but no staff at the hospital", Dr Ramsammy said, noting that this is an area he will have to urgently address.

Dr Ramsammy's patient empowerment strategy will entail establishing a mechanism for patients' complaints. This means that "patients' advocates" will have to be trained for the PRC to work effectively.

He cited the example of one section in the media which "is doing advocacy for themselves... The danger in this is that it can end up being acrimonious.

"I don't believe that the medical practitioners set out to deliberately short change patients, but in the execution of their jobs some (patients) do get treated unfairly.

"90 percent of the complaints made are misrepresented or misinterpreted".

The sometimes poor cooperation between management and doctors is another problem, Dr Ramsammy said.

He explained that at the Government Pharmacy for instance the rule is for prescriptions to be given out on a monthly basis.

However, because of concern for patients residing in far-flung areas, doctors would give sometimes, three-month prescriptions which the pharmacy finds a difficulty with.

Dr Ramsammy hopes that the PRC, which will be voluntary at the start, will eventually be made compulsory.

As for sound health promotion, Dr Ramsammy said sociological plagues will be incorporated into the Ministry's programmes to lend more emphasis on patient care.

No longer will suicide, alcoholism, smoking and drug abuse be viewed as mere "everyday" or "by-the-way" programmes.

The physiotherapy and counselling programmes, he noted, will require the cooperation of non-governmental bodies and other volunteers.

Dr Ramsammy said the Guyana Dental School will be churning out its first batch of 18 dentists, whom he said will be the equivalent of community health workers.

But an immediate task of his is to find a new Regional Health Officer for Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), as its previous holder Dr Jennifer Westford is now the public service minister.

The Ministry of Health this year is seeking a 10% increase in its expenditure over last year, the minister said.

He added that officials are currently preparing a three-month plan of action for streamlining the ministry's focus over the next five years.