Doctors’ union backs interns

THE Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA) has reinforced its support of medical interns at the Mandeville Regional Hospital (MRH) who have voiced their dissatisfaction with being asked to conduct COVID-19 swabs and attend to COVID-19 patients without being fit-tested for personal protective equipment (PPE).

The expression of support comes after the interns who spoke to the Jamaica Observer, on condition of anonymity, said that they felt like they were being faulted by the JMDA for the treatment they were receiving at MRH.

“They say they have also reiterated that the SMO [senior medical officer] reserves the right to curate the duties of the interns. The last communication I saw from them, they were outlining that we were allowed two don and doff sessions, and since it is that some of us did not go to those sessions, we are then at fault and they cannot represent us on that behalf,” an intern said.

The intern, however, defended their absence, saying the same sessions – which served the purpose of educating medical staff on how to properly put on and take off PPE — were haphazardly scheduled and some people were not in the parish at the time.

“For the first session, it was the day of the session a message was sent out via the departments to say please be reminded there well be a session today. That was the first time a lot of people heard about it. During the second session, some persons were on departmental leave,” the intern said.

But JMDA President Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley said the lobby group does not cast aspersions nor separate issues that arise, and views everyone as just members and doctors with an aim to represent all concerns.

“I don’t think that has been an issue whatsoever. But if this is how they feel we need to address the issue, because at no point do I want to belittle their feelings or to make them feel that their feelings are not valid. So, it would be good for us to have dialogue with them to try and settle the issue overall. We would never want our members to feel slighted in any way. To us it is one group and the issue affects all persons,” she said.

Further, Dr Fitz-Henley said the JMDA was made aware of the situation regarding the PPE and is in dialogue with the regional technical director to see how quickly the issue could be rectified.

“The issue is that though they are performing these duties, there is a lack of hazard pay as well as, islandwide, there is a lack of fit testing of N95 masks. We were told repeatedly that this is because there is a lack of supplies of the fit testing supplies they would need to do it. As a result of that, there are many hospitals where unfortunately persons are performing COVID duties without a fitted N95 mask. Of course, that would increase your risk of contracting COVID-19,” she said.

Dr Fitz-Henley added: “Once you’re performing any aerosolising event, you are to have a fitted N95 mask and, unfortunately, that is not happening at most places. Unfortunately, there was the issue where it appeared as though the interns were unfairly being put in charge of most of the COVID-19 swabbing and other management and so, of course, they would feel slighted because of that. We need to find out a timeline to get persons fit tested to ensure the safety of our members.”

The JMDA president said she was also aware that interns were being prohibited from claiming the COVID-19 incentives for the period July 2020 to December 2020.

“They were explicitly told they were not eligible for the COVID hazard pay which was incorrect. The circular from the Ministry of Finance explicitly states that persons who take care of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients on a location that has a quarantine or isolation unit is eligible for this pay, so unfortunately that did not occur either,” Dr Fitz-Henley said.

Dr Fitz-Henley further vowed to work to ensure those claims are honoured.

“It might be problematic [trying to claim the back money] but I will definitely enforce the issue so that they are able to claim for it. It is unfair for persons to be doing the duties and not being remunerated for that,” she said.

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