Job vacancies at hospital a worry

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday March 4th, 2014

 Revelations this week that the country’s largest hospital, the Port Moresby General, has 251 positions vacant is cause for great concern. 

This coming off the back of the recent announcement by the Health Secretary Pascoe Kase last month that the National Government would be fully subsidising health care at public and mission hospitals throughout Papua New Guinea. 

What the government is trying to achieve in healthcare reform – if we can call the free healthcare policy that – and the reality on the ground does not compute. 

If POM GEN is struggling to fill a couple of hundred jobs in an urban setting like the National Capital District where most of the skilled workforce is supposed to live, then how much worse off are the other state-run hospitals in the provinces we wonder? 

The country’s population is not stagnant nor is it growing at a manageable rate but is in fact increasing at a speed that some fear will outstrip the government’s ability to adequately provide for, unless something drastic is done now. 

Most the positions that need urgent filling according to the Port Moresby General’s human resource manager Rita Geno, are in its clinical division for nursing, midwifery and care giving. 

“The current work force cannot meet the demand,” Geno admitted at a careers fair seminar in Port Moresby last Friday. Geno said the hospital had a staff to patient ratio of one to 10 and compounding the situation was that 40 per cent of the workers were already reaching the public service retirement age of 60. 

The obvious question this begs is what Kase and his department doing about getting new recruits into the system? 

A good number of provinces have schools of nursing, how come graduates are not being retained to fill the vacancies? 

Perhaps the state should seriously look at empowering hospitals by ensuring that they get sufficient numbers on their rosters before pushing such popular policies like free health care. 

There is some good news but overall the outlook is generally bleak. 

Geno said some wards in the POM GEN were comparable to those found in developed countries but on the whole the hospital was struggling to cater for the people not just in facilities but expertise as well. 

Opened in 1957, the Port Moresby General Hospital catered primarily for the town’s residents. It had a maximum of 861 staff positions but filled only 610 of those jobs. 

Now 57 years on the hospital treats more than 400,000 patients annually from the National Capital District, Central and other provinces. 

It has 800 beds. Funding is always great but what good is the money if you have no proper means to use it? “We are focused on recruiting more nurses, that is the reason we are here.

“We don’t have the manpower. You are the ones who are going to make it happen,” Geno told those in attendance at the seminar.

It is one thing to throw money at a problem and make a big scene of introducing an ambitious plan but it is another thing to actually provide the framework for the policy to be effective. 

The fear here is that with additional funds being pumped into the health system it could end up just sitting in trust waiting for the hospitals to build up capacity to use these funds and the other benefits. 

Surely this is where wastage and the threat of corruption rise? The Finance Department and other agencies down the line do not have an exemplary record when it comes to holding on to money meant for one purpose but cannot be immediately used for the said purpose. 

If we have had problems in the past there is nothing stopping history from repeating itself. 

The temptation for misuse is all too real. 

What the government should realise is that you simply cannot solve these kinds of problems overnight, or in other words within the space of a political term. 

That type of reasoning will almost always guarantee rushed jobs and the need to have results in the here and now regardless of the actual impact on the population in the long run. It is a recipe for waste. Doing it right will save millions of kina