‘It’s not our call’

HEALTH Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has distanced himself from calls by Jamaica Nurses’ Association of Florida (JNAF) for Government intervention to flatten what they describe as “high registration costs” to bring necessary supplies into the country.

Mission Director Dr Beverlin Allen, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer earlier this month, said the association — which has been contributing to health care and welfare in rural Jamaica through its medical missions and humanitarian services for over 40 years — could have engaged more personnel but for the fees for registering here, which she described as a “turn-off”.

“This year we have 45 members, five doctors, 14 nurses, along with supporting staff of pharmacists, customer services, and missionaries. We could have had more personnel but the fee for registering here is ridiculous and it turns off volunteers. Then they have to find the money for clearance of our medical supplies, and we have to consider transportation for the personnel, food, and accommodation,” Allen lamented at the time.

She further pleaded with the Government to intervene to make the fees more manageable for the JNAF and similar associations, thereby encouraging more frequent philanthropic visits.

The health minister, in responding to the concern, however said “that’s not our call”, and emphasised that fees are set by the respective councils, independent of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, while noting that the ministry provides strong support to ease the path of medical missions.

That said, the minister stressed that the fess as they stand are negligible and should not pose a deterrent.

“We work with the missions that come to Jamaica and try to provide as best as possible support. One of the main support that we give, outside of information on how to get things in the country and how to get settled, would be to work through the foundation that we have,” Dr Tufton explained.

“We have a registered charity within the ministry and they can ship stuff through us — through that charity if they don’t have one — and benefit from the duty-free or the concessions that charities get; we provide that service. We provide needs assessment — whether it’s equipment needs and otherwise. We help them to coordinate with Customs. We provide them access (sometimes) with nurses and doctors, sometimes. [We also help] where they need support with health institutions and community-based organisations,” he said further.

“So there is a lot that we do to give support because we value the partnership. We think it’s very important, and we want to build it and make it better,” Dr Tufton said.

He, in the meantime, noted that the fees charged served a purpose.

“One has to remember what the fees are for. The registration is also a function of vetting, to ensure that persons who come to say they are doing a procedure based on a professional capacity, that they meet that requirement because you do have situations where that could create problems if that is not the case. So there is an effort that goes into that kind of vetting, and I suspect that the minimal fees charged are contributing to the kind of vetting or effort that is required,” the health minister said.

“So I don’t think it is, by any stretch of the imagination, a sort of for-profit type of activity. It really is an administrative cost to deal with some of the issues there and I think it’s quite minimal, actually, so I really don’t think it should be a big issue. But separate and apart from that, it’s not our call,” the health minister told the Observer.

A listing of the volunteer fees charged by the varying councils which were supplied to the Observer revealed that:

The Dental Council of Jamaica charges $6,000 and $3,000 per dentist and dental hygienist, respectively.

The Medical Council of Jamaica charges $1,000 for doctors and $3,000 for fully registered doctors (Annual Practising Certificate).

The Nursing Council of Jamaica for nurses charges US$50 while the Pharmacy Council of Jamaica for pharmacists charges US$50.

The Council for Professions Supplementary to medicine charges US$25 for those individuals, while Jamaica Optometric Association charges US$25 for optometrists.