The loopholes that allowed $11 billion worth of drugs and medical supplies to be wasted, as well as the dumping of a further $1.1 billion of expired medication, are being addressed and closed by the Health Ministry.
On Monday, the Health Ministry was brought before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer for the findings in the Auditor General’s performance audit. That audit had found as much as $950 million worth of drugs being wasted between 2015 and 2019.
In 2021, the Government had to dump another $10 billion worth of expired medical supplies that had accumulated between that time. Cecil Jacques, the former head of the Materials Management Unit (MMU) acknowledged that procurement and human errors were at the heart of these wastages.
The Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Malcolm Watkins also revealed that when he took over in 2020, the system was very much a broken one.
He noted that work had to be done to make the system a sustainable one.
“When I took over in 2020, there was still a broken system. The information in the software was very corrupt. There was no clear data. The first guidance I gave to the Chief Pharmacist, is we should find a mid-point between what they’re asking for and what we give. So that was our starting point and that would probably be a 60 per cent success rate.”
He further explained that they have established five active layers of checks and balances when drugs are being procured, to cut down on the errors that were once prevalent. Watkins cautioned, however, that the supply chain for drugs is a complex one and that human error can be reduced, but not completely eliminated.
“The supply chain is still evolving. It’s the largest supply chain in the country. And it’s a very complex system to manage. And I’m a specialist in it. So, we will have instances where there are process errors. Because of these instances, I’ve first asked the chief pharmacist, after (the documentation is) prepared by the logistics officers.”
“And after each programme director views and assesses their individual quantities. So that’s already two layers. Then the chief pharmacist is three layers. Then the chief medical officer is four layers. And policy directives dictate that the procurement department, even before we sign a contract, should look at it,” Watkins said.
Back in 2021, Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony had revealed that since taking over the Ministry in August of 2020, over 300 truckloads of expired medication had had to be dumped from the Materials Management Unit (MMU) – the central storage bond of the Health Ministry.
He said that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government inherited a “crisis” in relation to the quantity of expired medication being stored at MMU. Dr Anthony revealed that from 2015 to present day, the Health Ministry has had to dump over $10 billion worth of expired drugs and materials because of bad management.
He related that the electronic system at the MMU – called MAC – has been down for quite some time and that led to the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government not having a handle on the supplies stored in the central drug bond.
“When you look at it, we had about 300 truckloads of expired medicine we had to throw away and this is very costly to the country, all of us as taxpayers…the amount of medicines we have thrown away from the MMU does not take into consideration some of the expired medicines we had at Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) and so that too when we look at it, we estimate it is about $3 billion worth of medicine that we had to throw away,” Dr Anthony had informed.
The Minister related that in order to create space at the MMU, they had to dump close to $1 billion in drugs between August and September 2020, and another $1 billion worth between October and present day. He further related that it was quite unfair to taxpayers that such large quantities of drugs have to be dumped.