Jamaica Observer:-A severe shortage of specialist nurses and intensive care unit (ICU) beds yesterday forced the University Hospital of West Indies (UHWI) to cancel all major surgeries that were planned for the day.
The revelation was made by the hospital’s chairman James Moss-Solomon in his guest address to the Lions Club of Kingston monthly meeting at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.
“Each day is a new challenge… this morning I woke up to find… all major surgeries at our hospital have been cancelled because we simply cannot find enough critical care nurses to continue,” Moss-Solomon said.
He lamented the decision, noting that all the operating theatres are up and running and all the surgeons were ready to work.
Following Moss-Solomon’s address, UHWI Chief Executive Officer Kevin Allen was unable to say when the surgeries would resume.
“We have limited amounts of beds. So tomorrow, if a patient recovers and the bed is free, we resume tomorrow. Once we’re at capacity, major cases we have to hold back a little,” he told the
That issue was also addressed by Moss-Solomon, who stated that the hospital does not have enough intensive care beds, a situation that he said exists throughout the island. “UHWI, by international standards, should have 32 ICU beds, we currently have nine,” Moss-Solomon said.
However, he said the 32 beds presuppose that all other hospitals on the island have their complement, but that is not the reality, as Kingston Public Hospital has about four, Bustamante Hospital for Children has a few, Cornwall Regional Hospital has less than half of those at UHWI, while the other hospitals have none.
At the same time, the UHWI chairman stressed that modern medicine is not about the number of beds, but rather the effort to minimise the length of patient stay in hospitals.
He lamented the specialist nurse brain drain that, he said, continues to plague the island and noted its crippling effect on the UHWI’s operations.
According to Moss-Solomon, half the batch of 24 specialist nurses trained each year are usually recruited by overseas companies before graduation.
“We have doubled nursing training for specialist nurses in 2016 and before the course is completed 50 per cent of them are already employed. It does not matter how many millions of dollars we care to put up on a bonding system, the USA, Canada and the UK are quite happy to pay it off,” Moss-Solomon said.
“So you may have loved ones there today whose [surgeries] have been cancelled, not through the fault of the hospital being unable to have an operating theatre and the necessary doctors, but because of a critical shortage of specialist nurses who are being poached by these countries every graduating class,” he told the meeting.
But the UHWI chairman said he cannot blame the nurses, as they are seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
“They are not robots, they have husbands, families and children to go to school. Right now in Jamaica, some of them are forced to take their children to school every day by car because they don’t feel it’s safe for them to take the bus, and their girl children must get home by 6:00 pm. Now, in America when they are offered these jobs and all the perks, school buses pick up their children and drop them off; so it’s more than just about nursing care, this is about a way of life,” Moss-Solomon said.
He said the shortage of specialist nurses has not only affected the surgeries, but also surgical hours at the hospital, which have already been extended to 10:00 pm.
In the meantime, Moss-Solomon said the hospital is actively recruiting recovery room, intensive care unit and operating theatre nurses from Cuba and India to fill the gap.
During the question and answer session that followed Moss-Solomon’s address, Allen added that the UHWI should be getting 25 specialist nurses in mid-February through collaborative efforts with the health ministry.
The country has been grappling with the problem of specialist nurses for some time now; in 2011 the Nurses’ Association of Jamaica had reported that the country had one specialist nurse in several of the medical disciplines and that most of them had retired.
Last year, in an effort to address the shortage, the health minister instructed that the ministry’s parallel training programme for specialist nurses be expanded and extended beyond its intended closure date of 2016, to augment those who will be trained by the University of Technology, Jamaica.