THE Government is hiring 1,112 additional doctors in permanent posts over the next three to five years to provide better health care services for Jamaicans, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told the country on Wednesday, adding that the new positions will increase to more than 2,000 the number of physicians in the public health system.

“What that means is less patient to doctor ratio; more specialists in the system; more doctors at the primary community health care [level]; and also in the hospitals,” Dr Tufton said in his contribution to the 2023/24 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives.

He further pointed out that with more doctors in the public health care system “patients will get better care”.

The announcement was welcomed by the Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA). However, its president, Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley, pointed out that an adequate complement of doctors is needed at different levels of the system.

According to Dr Fitz-Henley, the JMDA has fought, for more than 40 years, to get doctors hired into permanent posts instead of on contracts.

“We are grateful to finally have been able to secure these posts,” she told the Jamaica Observer, but noted that it is important that this cadre includes doctors at all levels from medical officer level one to three (MO1 to MO3), which range from people who have completed the first year of the usual four-year training to become specialists; those who are part way through the training programme or promoted after completing five years as a doctor; and doctors who have completed a speciality programme or more years in the programme.

Dr Fitz-Henley said that in the past, there has been a surplus hiring of doctors at MO1 when many have been qualified to be MO3, but were repeatedly told there is no availability at that level.

She added that there are many doctors in the system who have been due promotions, some for more than a decade, and it is vital that this issue is rectified.

Further, Dr Fitz-Henley said an MO3 is a trained specialist, so his/her responsibilities would be more advanced than an MO1 who would have just begun a specialist training programme, adding that for the medical team to be efficient, a staff complement of doctors at different levels is important and needs to be reflected in the hiring process.

“There are also unemployed doctors who have been waiting to get a job, so we are hopeful that these doctors can now be retained.” Dr Fitz-Henley said, adding that “There are situations where specialists are only in the metropolitan areas, which result in long waiting periods for patients to get a clinic date and also for treatment.”

She also said that, in some areas, there are few specialists, resulting in delays for patients. “This also causes significant burnout for the doctors themselves as they are stretched thin. Many of these doctors are unable to even take leave since there’s no one else to see the patients.”

In his presentation, Dr Tufton said this new engagement will mean more job security for physicians.

He noted that the new arrangement will see 789 doctors currently engaged under short-term contracts transitioning to permanent posts. The increased numbers will also include the 140 posts which were created to support the State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tufton added that with these additional posts the health ministry will move to properly staff the different services provided in the comprehensive, district and community health centres as well as its Type C, Type B, regional hospitals, and Type A reference hospitals.

He said that with more physicians, the ministry — working with the regional health authorities — will be able to properly align the work of the different teams to provide better service quality to the public and expand the reach and scope of patient care within health facilities.

Details of the new hiring arrangement are contained in the Human Resources for Health: Clinicians Workforce document which Tufton tabled in the House on Wednesday. He said the plan to hire additional doctors was part of the Government’s compensation review arrangement.

Tufton assured the House that a similar plan for nurses and other health-care professionals is currently being worked on, promising that more details will be announced in due course.