KINGSTON, Jamaica — Health Ministry officials cautioned the Portmore community that there is no guarantee of a public hospital, even if the municipality evolves into the country’s 15th parish.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dunstan Bryan, told a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament today, that all options have to be considered at the policy directorate level, and a decision taken before the Ministry can go any further with plans for a major regional hospital in the parish.
“We are not clear in our minds that there is a need for an additional hospital in St Catherine,” he told the committee’s hybrid meeting at Gordon House, today. However, he admitted that the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, had announced plans for a new hospital for St Catherine in 2019.
Bryan said that a technical assessment of the health sector in the parish has been done since, and it has found that there are several other population centres to look at, including a growing number of housing settlements in the vicinity of Old Harbour, which are attracting large numbers of middle-income Jamaicans from Kingston and St Andrew.
“So when you look at service delivery points for health across the parish, several determinations can be made for the placement of a hospital close to either the Old Harbour or Portmore side of the parish,” he said.
“An argument can be made based on the variables for several locations,” he said, noting that there are other options in the parish for which similar arguments can be made.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in the Ministry, Dr Jacqueline Bisasor McKenzie, seemed even more convinced that the Spanish Town Hospital will be developed into a major health facility, absorbing patients from four comprehensive clinics in the parish — Greater Portmore, Linstead, Old Harbour and St Jago Park.
She said that all four are being retrofitted to meet the primary health care needs of residents of St Catherine, and reduce the need for hospitalisation at the Spanish Town Hospital.
“Right now what we are doing in terms of the knowledge we presently have, is that we are catering to the entire parish of St Catherine. So in terms of our build-out of the facilities, both in primary and secondary health care, we are taking into consideration the population of Portmore, and looking at the expanded services at the Spanish Town Hospital,” Dr McKenzie said.
She also pointed out that the ministry is actually moving towards having four comprehensive health centres — Linstead, Old Harbour, St Jago Park and Portmore — to meet the primary health care needs of the population and prevent them from having to go to the hospital.
She said that at the Spanish Town Hospital, the ministry is expanding its specialist services, by virtue of the size of the population.
“We are upgrading the Spanish Town Hospital to the level of a regional hospital. It is not a regional hospital, in that it is not a referral hospital for the region. But, in terms of the services that it offers, it would be similar to the Mandeville Regional Hospital, as well as the St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital, that we are also upgrading in terms of the specialist service,” she said.
“We are also increasing the number of beds at Spanish Town, bearing in mind the population demands. So, therefore in looking at a totally new hospital in the midst of that, we certainly would have to look at what type of hospital. Because the ratio we have looked at in terms of the requirements for specialist services would be taken care of by the infrastructure and the human resources that we are now putting in place at the Spanish Town Hospital,” she explained.
She said that this would be further supplemented by other specialist hospitals, including the Kingston Public, Victoria Jubilee, University and National Chest hospitals.
The Ministry’s team was answering questions from members of the JSC, primarily from St Catherine, including chairman, Dr Andrew Wheatley (South Central St Catherine), Fitz Jackson (Southern St Catherine and Robert Miller (South Eastern St Catherine).