Tufton reduces Cornwall Regional spend from $800-m to $480-m

BY ANTHONY LEWIS
Observer writer
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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MOUNT SALEM, St James — Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has disclosed that the g overnment has spent $480 million to date on addressing issues at Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James.

The revised figure is almost half the $800-million he had mentioned earlier, during a sitting of the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament.

The cost not only relates to infrastructure work, but outsourcing of services.

Dr Tufton on Friday afternoon gave the reason for the adjustment.

“We would have spent somewhere in the region of $482 million. At Standing Finance Committee we had said $800 million. The difference is that we had committed to playing out some additional funds to the contractor who will be working on the HVAC ventilation system, which is a half a billion or so expenditure. Apparently, some of those resources have not yet been paid, and so the need for the adjustment. So, based on what I have been given here, you are looking at close to $480, not $800-million. And that's an important correction,” stated Dr Tufton.

The minister was addressing journalists following a tour of the hospital with members of the media and other health officials.

Work had started on the hospital over a year ago to address what staff had referred to as noxious fumes emanating from a section of the building.

Dr Tufton, who commended all staff at the hospital for their efforts during the challenging period, stated that work on the over 40-year building is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The minister scoffed at recent questions raised by opposition spokesperson on health, Dr Dayton Campbell who had raised the issue of whether the country had received the best there is from the money spent so far on addressing the hospital's challenges.

Dr Campbell had stated that as a means of transparency, there needs to be disclosure surrounding the work plan and budget to have the institution repaired.

“The Government has to make health care a priority and it has to make Cornwall Regional into a priority. We tend to find resources to do all sorts of things in this country, but when it comes on to health care, we always hear the cry that there isn't enough funding to do something there. And, as a matter of fact, even when the resources have been identified... because the minister said in the finance committee that they have spent close to $800 million on the facility thus far, you would have seen in your clips too, it begs the question as to, have we have the best spend of the $800 million? So what would we like to see? We would like to get a work plan that they have for the facility as to the problems that they have identified, what needs to be repaired and what is the timeline to get it done, and what is the budget to do so. We need to have those things so that we can [account] for some amount of accountability and transparency,” argued Dr Campbell.

Dr Campbell made the comments two weeks ago following a tour of the hospital. He was accompanied by vice-president of the PNP, Dr Wykeham McNeill and a team of doctors from the party.

However, when asked by the Jamaica Observer about Dr Campbell's suggestion, the health minister responded by suggesting that Dr Campbell was “grandstanding”, as there are several ways to access such information.

“He can do so in the Parliament of Jamaica. If he tables questions, they can be answered. It can be done through Access to Information, which is a legislative framework that allows for transparency. To do so in front of cameras to get a headline is attention seeking, as far as I am concerned, because he knows what he can do to get it done, and I have no difficulty in providing him with the information,” stated Dr Tufton.

“He can do so privately too. He can pick up the phone and call me, ask me for a sit-down, and we go through them — I have no difficulty with that. I have said it over and over and over again. I don't play around with taxpayers' money, and I take on anybody who does, because that is my responsibility. The job (hospital repair) has to be done. It is not cheap. But at the same time, we are not wasting resources or certainly, I am not knowingly doing that or seeing anybody doing that. If I know it is happening, then I will take appropriate action, and I am prepared to be very transparent with him in terms of that information,” Dr Tufton stated.

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