Complaints of sharp practices and inefficiency now dog most government hospitals. Patients lament that the hospitals, rather than play their statutory role of finding solution to the health problems of the people, have turned to institutions which bring faster death and worsened the health conditions of the people.
A LEADERSHIP Sunday investigation discovered that some of the government hospitals, including the National Hospital, general and teaching hospitals and, indeed, most government hospitals have become mere preliminary consulting rooms. Nigerians who can afford it either proceed to very expensive private hospitals or fly abroad for actual treatment.
The complaints of these patients, which were also corroborated by their relatives who accompanied them to the hospitals, ranged from the use of consultants, attitude of nurses and other medical staff, the billing system and dispensing of drugs to obsolete equipment and general unhygienic conditions.
Many lamented that the federal government and its agencies responsible for ensuring that Nigerians are adequately attended to at the hospitals have abdicated their responsibilities for the obvious reason that most top government officials do not patronise the hospitals and would rather jet out of the country to Europe or other African countries at the slightest indication of illness.
One patient of the National Hospital, Abuja, who refused to disclose his identity on the grounds that he was still undergoing treatment, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that he underwent five operations on the same part of his body within a period of seven months. When he was required to do a sixth operation, he left the hospital out of frustration and went to a private hospital. According to him, the private hospital, it turned out, was owned by one of the consultants who handled his case at the National Hospital.
The patient disclosed that on one of the days, while he was waiting for the consultant handling his case, he met a middle-aged man with a similar health problem who disclosed to him that he had undergone 25 operations and was still expected to go through more.
"I had done five operations from the time I first visited this hospital early this year. After every operation it was discovered that due to the way it was handled, the problem still persisted and I was compelled to come back for another operation. When I was told that I had to do another operation which would have made it the sixth one, I made enquiries and was advised to seek assistance in a private hospital. I visited this hospital owned by one of these consultants handling my case at the National Hospital and, as I talk to you now, I have seen the difference. I can tell you that the treatment I received at that private hospital is far better than what I received all the time I went to the National Hospital. You can see that the standard and quality of treatment at this hospital is higher," he said.
According to this patient, the use of consultants who run their private hospitals or engage their services in several other hospitals, rather than improve the health of patients at these government hospitals, actually endanger it. He noted that, often times, these consultants have a long list of patients they are billed to attend to at the government hospital and very short time to attend to them. According to him, one finds a situation where some patients, who ordinarily should not take more than a week to see these consultants, end up waiting for months before they could see them.
Another patient who poured out his agony in the hands of the hospital officials accused the officials of shortchanging patients by either providing them with poor-quality drugs or deliberately refusing to give out drugs which the patients had paid for. This patient gave an instance of pain killers which are supposed to be dispensed on a six-hourly basis. According to her, due to the poor quality of the drugs they do not last the expected six hours before their efficacy wears out. And when a patient in pain demanded for another dose, he was told that the time for the next dose had not reached. She recalled an occasion when a particular drug was supposed to have been given to her but it was discovered that, while it was recorded that she had been receiving that drug, nobody had given her the drugs. "When I complained I was informed that they would begin to give me the drug," she said.
There was also the complaint of the hygienic standard of most of these hospitals. While the nurses and hospital attendants are said to not adhere to the ethical standard of cleanliness, some equipment are said to have worn out. One patient lamented how he had to bring his pillows because there was none on the bed he was admitted into. Apart from pillow, this patient said he had to purchase a new standing fan to give ventilation in the room because the air conditioner was bad. He lamented that the bedspread could stay for days before the cleaners would replace them. Before patients are admitted into the hospitals they have to deposit huge sums of money which are expected to cover all these things that the hospital deprive the patients of, he stated.
Another patient's complaint was about the attitude of the nurses. Most of them, he said, are only interested in their salaries since they are civil servants. They are usually rude to the patients, he said, adding that such attitude further aggravates the poor health conditions of patients.
The situation, LEADERSHIP Sunday found out, was even more deplorable in most of the general hospitals and the Gwagwalada Teaching Hospital. One patient who spoke to this reporter lamented that doctors in these hospitals have a habit of keeping patients waiting for longer than usual before attending to them. And when they turn up, they are in a hurry to discharge the patients. This, he said, could be because they have too many patients to attend to in the hospital apart from their commitments at their private hospitals.
Another complaint which was made about the general hospitals was the absence of some of the equipment needed for the treatment of patients. They gave an example with oxygen, pointing out that, more often than not, oxygen, a gas necessary to aid respiration, is not available in the hospital. And so when there is a need to give oxygen to patients, the hospital officials complain that they do not have any. This, they said, had led to the death of many patients including new-born babies. Some other patients complain about the hygienic condition of the hospitals. According to them, there is deliberate neglect of the wards which, they affirm, help bacteria to grow. Often times, they lamented, when patients are brought to these hospitals they complain about the poor environment and have to opt for private hospitals.
In these hospitals, officials are also said to take every opportunity to extort money from the patients by insisting that they pay for even items that were never made available. Apart from this, the cashiers inflate the bills and some patients do not query the amount.
The major complaint made about the Gwagwalada Teaching Hospital is the use of student-doctors to handle complicated cases. Patients lament that, most times, doctors turn these patients into guinea pigs. Moreover, consultant doctors in this hospital also do not give enough time to patients. Due to the large number of cases they have to handle daily, both in the hospital and in their private hospitals, patients are made to suffer neglect or delay. And when they are attended to, they are not adequately handled. These, the patients say, often times, result in avoidable deaths or complication of cases. The patients also disclosed that most patients who come to these hospitals as a result of road accidents usually end up having their legs or hands amputated. They aver that if these patients had been given prompt and adequate care, some of them would not have had their limbs amputated.
A journalist who was involved in an auto accident narrated his ordeal in the hands of officials when he had to be rushed to the National Hospital. After staying five days without the necessary attention, he had to be rushed out of the hospital when it became obvious that the injured leg would decay if it was not promptly treated.
When officials of the National Hospital were confronted with the barrage of allegations, they denied everything. They pointed out that the National Hospital, which is under the presidency, remains the best in the country. Dr Olusegun Ajuwon, the chief medical director (CMD) who spoke with this reporter, expressed displeasure at the type of reports which, he said, most newspapers carry about the National Hospital, describing them as negative.
On the issue of the consultants, he explained that the government's policy allowed doctors in government hospitals to do private practice as long as it does not affect their call time at the government hospitals. He also said no consultant in his hospital diverts patients to his private hospital since it is a criminal offence. He defended the consultants on the issue of not giving adequate attention to the patients, pointing out that the consultants were very busy, given the influx of patients who required their services. He affirmed that the first responsibility of the consultants was to their places of primary assignment, the government hospital. "Even some doctors who in the past were accused of diverting patients, most of such doctors have had to leave the hospital for their private hospital," he said.
On the issue of substandard drugs, the CMD who did not take kindly to the allegation noted that government agencies, including the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), visited the hospital's pharmacy on a daily basis to ensure that they kept up to the standard practice. He also spoke on the issue of the behaviour of his staff towards patients and affirmed that there was a SERVICOM department in the hospital which makes sure that patients are given fair treatment.
The hospital's boss, however, pointed out that the issue of carrying out 25 and five surgical operations respectively on two different patients was not possible since there was no record in the hospital to show that such a case ever took place. "Let the people come out and show that they actually had that number of operations. Were they made to allow any hospital to do it?" he asked. The CMD also denied the allegation that a journalist who had an accident spent five days in the hospital without treatment and which made the journalist's colleagues to rush him to a traditional healing home where the injured leg was saved from decay and possible amputation.
At the general hospitals in Dutse, Kubwa and Maitama, the CMDs were not available to speak on the allegations of inefficiency levelled against the hospitals.
However, a senior official who spoke under the condition of anonymity heaped the blame on the federal government. According to him, the federal government does not fund the hospitals very well, and morale of the doctors and nurses is very low due to low incentive and absence of the necessary equipment to facilitate their work. He lamented that, like the teachers who have gone on strike without the federal government budging, should the doctors and nurses embark on a strike, the nation would be in grave danger. They called on the Yar'Adua government to look into the state of the hospitals with a view to addressing some of the shortcomings.
One doctor at the Garki General Hospital told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the hospital remains the neatest in the country. He, however, lamented that the problem of the state of the nation's hospitals is not something that could be addressed in one night. According to him, the government has to have the right attitude concerning establishments which serve the populace.
"Until the National Assembly passes a law which will make it mandatory for officials of government to seek medical attention in the various hospitals around, these officials will never make available those equipment they fly abroad to look for whenever they are ill," he said.
At the Gwagwalada Teaching Hospital, a student-doctor disclosed that the hospital has a responsibility to provide a learning ground for the student-doctors. According to her, without that atmosphere, the student-doctors who will graduate to handle the hospitals in the country would not be adequately equipped for their jobs. She pointed out that the issue of brain drain is one factor threatening to further worsen the state of the nation's health facilities. According to her, as long as the opportunities which government denies the general hospitals abound abroad, most doctors and nurses would continue to seek greener pastures outside.