In a bold move to ensure that patients’ rights are no longer abused in the healthcare sector nationwide, the Federal Government recently unveiled the Patients’ Bill of Rights initiative. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who launched the programme at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said “the Patients’ Bill of Rights is synonymous to human lives and respect for human dignity.”
Osinbajo also reiterated that respect for patients and human lives revealed how a country values its citizens. The enforcement of these rights, he noted, is not solely the responsibility of the healthcare practitioners but the entire healthcare spectrum. The Patients’ Bill of Rights is an aggregation of rights that exist in other instruments into one educational material for the benefit of the patients and care providers. Those rights were extracted from the Nigerian Constitution, Consumer Protection Act, Child Rights Act, Freedom of Information Act, the Hippocratic Oath and others. The initiative is believed to promote safer healthcare standards in the nation’s hospitals. The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said the initiative identified rights and privileges in a patient/ care giver relationship for the protection of consumers and providers. The minister also believed that the Patients’ Bill of Rights would help the country to achieve the Universal Health Coverage.
Other stakeholders during the launching of the scheme spoke glowingly on its inherent advantages. Generally, it will ensure that patients are given necessary information about their medical situation in a language they understand and the processes involved in seeking second opinion where necessary. It will also enable patients ask questions from the care provider.
We applaud the government, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), the Federal Ministry of Health and others for contributing to the launching of the project. Considering the abuses patients are subjected to in our hospitals, the Patients’ Bill of Rights is long overdue. Some patients have died in hospitals due to negligence by healthcare providers. The Patients’ Bill of Rights will enable Nigerians know their rights and demand better healthcare from their caregivers if properly enforced as done abroad. We hope the patients’ bill of rights will reduce the frequency of strikes in the health sector and stop the rejection of gunshot victims by some hospitals, insistence on patients paying deposit before treatment even in emergency situations. Its success will largely depend on the cooperation between the consumers and caregivers. We appeal to the government to make copies of the Patients’ Bill of Rights accessible to all Nigerians in the language they can understand.
But one problem which might vitiate this noble scheme is its enforcement. All the stakeholders need further enlightenment on how the patients’ bill of rights can be enforced. State and local governments’ health authorities must be carried along in the implementation of this laudable scheme expected to revolutionalise the troubled sector.
Beyond the introduction of the patients’ bill of rights scheme and its envisaged benefits to all the stakeholders, the government should improve the health sector generally to stem the brain drain as well as the increasing medical tourism. Therefore, the Federal Government should heed the call by former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, to increase substantially the budgetary allocation to the health sector.
No doubt, increasing the national health budget substantially will drastically address most of the sec- tor’s challenges. Unfortunately, the nation’s budgetary allocation has not exceeded five per cent in recent times. It is far below the 15 per cent recommended in 2001 by African Union (AU) countries in Abuja.