From its service charter, the National Hospital, Abuja, was created by law to, among other things, render services par excellence in all fields of medicine, provide facilities and helpful environment for the training and advancement of all medical cadres such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and laboratory scientists. It was also designed to encourage research necesssary for expanding the frontiers of medical knowledge that are significant to the country and West Africa sub-region. The hospital was expected to support primary and secondary healthcare.
The main services of the hospital, according to the dream of those who created the institution, include accident and emergency on 24-hour basis, Intensive Care Unit to cater for serious medical and surgical cases, open Theatre Unit where a full range of minor and major operations are performed, labour ward/theatres for deliveries and infant care facilities, paediatric and neonatal care services for sick children, family planning and reproductive health services, ear, eye, throat, ophthalmology, dental services and others.
In the beginning, the hospital could compete with any standard hospital in the West African region. But that was many years ago. Today, the hospital has become a mere consulting clinic: like many decaying healthcare centres across the country, it is characterised by lack of minimum facilities, healthcare officers, common drugs and other services. Unlike respectable and patient-friendly hospitals, the National Hospital lacks polite staff members.
Against patients' expectation of prompt, comprehensive, efficient, safe and effective healthcare delivery from the hospital, dying patients spend many hours waiting for doctors and nurses to attend to them. Stories abound at the ENT (ear, nose and throat), ophthalmology, dental, laboratory services in microbiology and haematology, in-patient wards, private, semi-private and open wards/clinics of how patients spend a whole day waiting for medical officers for medical attention. What is more, nearly all laboratory services are now done outside the hospital, especially in private laboratories where many of the medical officers working in the hospital have vested interests.
In the course of treatment, the hospital's medical officers, especially nurses, talk to patients rudely as if they are doing them a favour. Habitually, many pharmacists force patients to buy their drugs, which they sell in their various cars, rather than the official ones.
The state of the National Hospital, the "best" healthcare institution in our country, summarises the poor state of our healthcare system today under the watchful eye of President Goodluck Jonathan. And if senior government officials are not concerned because they can afford high cost of medical care abroad, the longsuffering Nigerians are worried.
Two things are surely responsible for the poor state of the hospital: it is either the present management is grossly inefficient or the federal government, especially the supervising ministry, is no longer paying attention to the institution. But, either way, we hold the federal government responsible. Something must be done urgently to save the situation. The hospital should go back to its target of acquiring and utilising state-of-the-art facilities to deliver diagnostic and therapeutic tertiary health services of international standards. And the services should be delievered to patients effectively at affordable costs. There is also need for the federal government to restructure the management for effective and speedy services delivery.