From Tony Osauzo, Benin
More reactions, yesterday, trailed Governor Godwin Obaseki’s allegation of corruption in Edo State public health system, with the state hospital management board chapter of the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), debunking and describing the allegation as disparaging remarks against its members.
Recall that the governor had on Monday condemned the high level of corruption in the healthcare system in the state, saying that his administration would insist on a new order and that doctors must render services to Edo people to justify their salaries.
He spoke at a meeting with doctors drawn from the State Hospital Management Board, Edo Specialist Hospital, Edo Primary Healthcare Agency and the Ministry of Health, at Government House in Benin City after a guided tour of Stella Obasanjo Hospital in in the state capital.
Follwing the governor’s disclosure that all was not well with the state healthcare system, the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), had on Wednesday in a statement in Benin City, commended him for admitting the collapse, which the party said health practitioners and other well-meaning citizens of the had earlier pointed out.
But, yesterday, the ARD in a statement issued after an emergency meeting of its members and signed by Dr. Osayande Edorisiagbon and Dr. Ovbiagele Uaboi, President and Secretary-General respectively of the Association, described Obaseki’s comments as vexatious and unsubstantiated.
The Doctors pointed out that there was no independent panel set up by the government where any doctor was indicted for any form of financial impropriety, challenging the government to make its findings publica if such an investigative body was ever set up.
“It is a notorious fact that several years ago, the Edo State government introduced a direct mode of collection of revenue for services rendered in all government health facilities that effectively makes it impossible for the management of these health institutions to have access to the collected revenue let alone the doctors who render only clinical services.
“Any lapses in the government revenue-collection process must not be blamed on any medical personnel.
“We are however aware that the entire 34 hospitals under the Edo State Hospitals Management Board (SHMB) survive on a paltry monthly subvention of about 15 million naira and are able to still generate substantial revenue that is collected directly by the State government”, the Association said.
On the issue of private practice by doctors in government employment, the doctors drew the Governor’s attention to an existing law- Decree No 1 of 1992), regulating private practice by medical doctors in public service, which exempts doctors from the ban of public officials from private practice.
Besides, they said the 2008 Code of Medical Ethics in Nigeria, Part E, 49 states that medical and dental practitioners who are in full time employment in the public service in Nigeria are free to employ their spare time and unofficial hours to engage in private medical or dental practice.
“It is therefore disingenuous to attempt to criminalize and demonize our hard-working doctors whose practice does not conflict with the code of conduct for public officials as they are even already working more than the period required by law.
“If it is even true that doctors own private clinics, Central Hospital, Benin City, is an unlikely place for patient recruitment as only indigent patients who cannot afford the cost of treatment in private and federal Health institutions patronize the hospital”, the statement added.
The doctors however denied allegation of refusing to be posted outside Benin City, but pointed out that the shortage of skilled health workforce means that a limited number of doctors have to attend to hundreds of patients daily and it is known that quality health care cannot be rushed.
According to the Association, there is an unacceptable disproportionate distribution of doctors between the rural and urban areas in Edo State as main urban areas of Benin and Ekpoma axis have UBTH, Central Hospital, Stella Obasanjo Hospital, Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital and several private hospitals between them.
“The association has over the years shouted itself hoarse on the need for the state government to employ or engage the services of more doctors due to the acute and now chronic shortage of manpower.
“During Mr. Governor’s first tenure in office, there was a promise to employ about 6000 workers in the health sector, including doctors in order to ameliorate the shortage of manpower in the system. We are however shocked at the statement credited to the governor which tends to create the impression that there are too many doctors in Central Hospital, Benin City doing nothing even when the employment is yet to be done.
“His Excellency may not be aware that the suppose over-bloated medical workforce consists of about fifty (50) first-line doctors called intern or House Officers who are on a mandatory one-year Internship under supervision in line with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) regulation. These categories of doctors cannot be posted to hospitals outside Benin (Rural Hospitals) as they lack the Specialist medical personnel to supervise and train these interns.
“Doctors in Central Hospital, Benin are overworked, overused and under-remunerated. The department of Family Medicine for example has only 3 consultants, 6 senior registrars and 6 registrars who attend to about Four Thousand (4000) patients on a monthly basis. This is the same scenario in the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and other departments in the hospital”, the ARD said.
It expressed dismay that the governor was given a guided tour round of Stella Obasanjo Hospital, last weekend by the Chief Medical Director of a federal teaching hospital in the presence of the medical director of that hospital alongside the Permanent Secretary overseeing the hospital, describing it as very unfortunate that doctors from the federal health institutions in the state are contracted to head and give instructions to state doctors of the same qualification and training.
“This is not only demeaning to our doctors but it is also an avenue for wastage of funds”, it said and suggested that for the healthcare system to run efficiently, certain necessary medical equipment and facilities must be put in place as basic radiological and histological investigative tools are presently lacking.
“Our members are ready and willing to be posted to any part of the state. However, the government should also put every necessary infrastructure such as adequate medical facilities and equipment, power supply, quarters for accommodation, and adequate security in place so that people in the rural areas can also access quality healthcare services.
“There is an urgent need for the rebuilding of the more than 100 year-old dilapidated Central Hospital building to make it befitting of a hospital setting.
“There is an urgent need for the employment of more doctors (consultants and medical officers), as well as other healthcare personnel to render healthcare services to the citizens of the state.
“The current situation stifles any plan by the state towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC) if not addressed. Providing adequate access to care for the entire population of the state will require enough professional hands, both in rural and urban areas”, ARD added.