Tue | Jun 6, 2023

COVID pressure - Doctors angry at vacation directive ruling out international travel; pandemic causing mental, physical trauma

Published:Sunday | December 20, 2020 | 12:25 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer

Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams (second right) and Robert Hill (right), CEO of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, don masks as they engage with a vendor while touring sections of downtown Kingston to observe the level of compliance to COV
Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams (second right) and Robert Hill (right), CEO of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, don masks as they engage with a vendor while touring sections of downtown Kingston to observe the level of compliance to COVID-19 protocols on Thursday, December 1, 2020

The reintegration of more than 100 doctors who were laid off from the health sector has not eased the punishing shifts being worked by junior practitioners, many of whom are now unable to take vacation leave as a result of mandatory quarantine rules.

Doctors are said to be very unhappy after the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) sent a letter two weeks ago informing them that departmental leave cannot be used to complement quarantine requirements of 14 days after international travel.

And as the island continues to grapple with the pandemic, doctors are now adding anger to chronic fatigue in the public health system.

“The ministry has urged all healthcare workers to take breaks and prioritise their mental health, which is something that we wholeheartedly welcome. We have always stressed how important it is for our doctors to ensure that their mental health is given attention, without which, there can be no good health. However, the reality is that without additional doctors, it is not possible to take those breaks,” said Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley, president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA).

International travel for doctors is all but impossible as the 14 days mandatory quarantine is “the entire vacation leave for the year”.

“We recognise that with our jobs come sacrifices and that we are crucial members in the fight against COVID, but it seems unfair that we can only take vacations in the manner the ministry wants. We surely welcome the need for quarantine on arrival to Jamaica, but it is unsettling that MOHW creates a staff-welfare programme encouraging leave and taking breaks, but then limits where we can go on leave,” said Fitz-Henley.

Earlier this year, there were concerns about the toll the long working hours were having on doctors, especially residents, with many taking to social media to detail the horrors of working in the sector. It came as news emerged that more than 100 doctors were not being re-engaged as their contracts expired in the public sector.


“The medicine residents have been the backbone of the COVID fight and there are limited numbers of them, so for one person to take leave, it would require someone else to cover, which isn’t always possible. We are happy that the 106 doctors were able to rejoin the workforce, but it is important to remember that they were already present and just re-entered. Unfortunately, we still need additional doctors at each location,” Fitz-Henley told The Sunday Gleaner.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said the police will be playing a major role over the Christmas season, especially in hotspot parishes, to clamp down on breaches of COVID-19 containment measures even as senior police officials say they are “fed up” with the “continuous trafficking of policemen and women over the country to keep lawless people in check”.

“Police are apprehensive and many are just going through the motions,” a senior officer said yesterday.

“I have been in dialogue with the minister of national security on the matter. We have discussed the issue of the illegal activities, such as parties in those parishes, and he will discuss with the High Command,” the minister said last week.

Tufton said he could not comment on full lockdown for the parishes.

“Full quarantine is a matter for the Cabinet, so I cannot say.”

Manchester is also said to be on the health surveillance radar as a COVID-19 case at the tax collectorate in Mandeville triggered a scare among workers.

Officials in the parish are said to be unable to keep track of all the crowd-pulling activities being held – from roadside dances to house and bar parties, beach trips and customer appreciation events.

A senior medical professional said he understood the reasons Jamaicans were “fleeing their personal prisons”.


“People are out for a number of reasons. Their mental health is deteriorating. They need to hustle to keep food on their table, and others have said if they could have elections and breach their own protocols, then you have to catch them in the act and lock them up. But they are insistent they are going to go out and enjoy themselves,” said the doctor.

Other doctors, however, were less understanding, blasting those breaching the orders for “selfishly expressing their frustrations and putting the nation at risk, including medical personnel and their families”.

Surgical neurologist Dr Roger Hunter says the lockdown syndrome was causing more deaths than the pandemic, saying that the extreme measures were unwarranted.

“If we continue the lockdown of schools, it is going to cause more problems than we can imagine,” Hunter told The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.

His view that COVID-19 was a winter virus has been rebuffed by others in the medical fraternity, with some colleagues labelling him as being mad.

Hunter said he may be mad for being counted among the best.

According to Hunter, Jamaica’s positive virus numbers and deaths per population to date do not warrant the billions in losses suffered by the country, while noting that Jamaica should focus on testing for antibodies.


“More Jamaicans are dying from complications from inactivity as a result of the lockdown syndrome than the virus itself,” he stressed.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as heart disease, diabetes and chronic lower respiratory disease – remain the leading cause of death in Jamaica, 2018 Ministry of Health figures show. The three NCDs still rack up more fatalities than COVID-19 fatalities.

He suggested that women of childbearing age and children under 16 should not be given the COVID-19 vaccine.

“There are two doses to complete the treatment, and a woman can get the first dose today, get pregnant tomorrow before the second dose and nine months later, we will have the evidence of what can happen,” he asserted.

Up to Friday, Jamaica had recorded 12,135 cases of COVID-19 with 2,882 being active. There have been 285 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the island with another 25 fatalities under investigation. An additional 44 deaths have been ruled coincidental.