Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton speaking recently at the Make Your Mark Middle Managers Conference held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, addressed the need to work together to create resilience and continuity in Jamaica’s health care system.
The theme, ‘Challenge the possible to create the impossible’, was particularly apropos, given the challenges faced by the Ministry of Health during the COVID pandemic.
Below is Dr Tufton’s full address:
I am pleased to join you for the 12th staging of the Make Your Mark Middle Managers Conference, and under a theme that provides much food for thought: ‘Challenge the possible to create the impossible’.
It calls us to look at our ‘business as usual’ practices and to make inspired changes that produce results beyond what we would have otherwise expected.
FUTURE OF WORK
In considering this theme and the future of work for my presentation, it occurred to me that this is what we, as a Ministry of Health & Wellness, a Government and, indeed, a country have been doing over the last two years to safeguard public health.
Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, about which little was known or understood at the outset, we were nevertheless able to forge and make best use of critical partnerships; mobilise needed resources and make the necessary changes in approach and planning – in support of the National COVID-19 Response.
In the process, we succeeded not only in limiting the number of serious illness and deaths associated with the pandemic, but also accelerated our efforts toward health system resilience – from the ongoing introduction of ICT infrastructure for the digitisation of health records and the practice of telemedicine, to the physical expansion of health facilities and the retooling of staff.
However, this was only possible with the support of our middle managers – in public health and across the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government, who helped to translate ‘the mission’ and who saw to the team’s implementation of our varied interventions.
Now, as we look to build forward better with COVID-19, it is required that as a society, we continue to ‘challenge the possible to create the impossible’. By that I mean we must examine the bounds of what we feel is possible, adopting a ‘health in all’ approach to all facets of our lives – including our work – in order to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages’.
The ‘health in all’ approach is about the deliberate and systematic inclusion of health considerations into decision-making across sectors and policy areas; and is, to my mind, no longer optional. If there is one thing that COVID-19 has taught us, it is the importance of investing the time to do business continuity and recovery planning.
That applies not only in pandemics, and to climate change and natural disasters, but also to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which threaten the workforce and the workplace.
Some 15 per cent of the health budget is currently spent on diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer, as reflected in the 2017 investment case for the prevention and control of NCDs in Jamaica.
That investment case also reveals that, at minimum, the Jamaican economy stands to lose some J$77.1 billion over a 15-year period (2017-2032), should we fail to implement a package of interventions for NCDs. What is more, investing in a package of priority policies and programmes is estimated to yield a return on investment of J$2.10 for every J$1 spent.
Middle managers, as the crucial link between policymakers and/or senior managers and frontline workers and/or the people served, must be aware of the burden that NCDs represent and the risks and threats of climate change, among other challenges to public health; and support the planning to mitigate the impact on the workforce and workplace.
The pandemic also taught us that the ‘face’ of work has changed and demonstrated what is possible with the adoption of remote work. Remote work has sustained ‘life’ for many businesses and put on show that at least some categories of workers can do their jobs successfully outside of the office – in the interest of public health and the company’s bottom-line.
CALL TO ACTION
I am aware that there is much that is required of our managers in a world where public health risks and threats abound. In addition to NCDs, we have had to contend with not only COVID-19, but also Chik- V, Zik-V and Dengue over recent years.
Still, it is possible to overcome these public health challenges and to minimise the risks to the workforce and the workplace. We must constantly assess, plan, improvise, and empower our teams, even as we maintain open lines of communication and win the support of our stakeholders. Conferences such as this provide the opportunity to sharpen those skills as we share experiences and lessons learnt. We must also seek out and build partnerships and this conference is a good place to do this also.
I pause to congratulate the event organisers. It takes effort and requires commitment to host an event for 12 years and with the focus on a group that helps to define the success or failure of any organisation, whether public or private: middle managers