… Private medical practitioners agonise over hard times
‘Now, we write off patients’ bills and give them money to go home’
By Job Osazuwa
Private medical practitioners in Nigeria are lamenting the hardship caused by economiv recession. The medical doctors running private hospitals, under the umbrella of Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN), are complaining that rendering health care service to patients and running their facilities have become a serious challenge.
The first Vice President of the association, Lagos branch, Dr. Esegine Jonathan, stated this recently at the association’s 2016 Award/Dinner, at Sheraton Hotels, Ikeja, Lagos.
He said doctors were not exempted from the harsh economic realities ravaging Nigeria at the moment, explaining that it was even more difficult for doctors due to the peculiarity of their services. He stated that, no matter the circumstance, the doctor is trained to save life first,
“There is recession now; money is not flowing and Nigerians cannot meet their daily needs any longer. We as doctors are not living in isolation but in the same community. When we treat people, they can no longer pay their bills.
“The experience is such that, sometimes, by the time we finish treating the patients, we don’t just write off the bills, we also give them money to go home. The situation is as bad as that. I’m afraid that, if food insecurity is added to the crisis, it will further compound the situation. If that is not averted, malnutrition will set in and the health facilities will be over-stretched,” Jonathan said.
According to him, private medical practitioners deliver more than 70 per cent of health care service in Lagos State.
He complained that health care services in Nigeria were underfunded, and tasked the Federal Government to implement the 15 per cent budget on health as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). He said the best that is practised by a few states was about 6 per cent.
Said he: “When you visit government hospitals, the queue there will scare you. You will begin to imagine the number of hours wasted before a patient could see a doctor. If the private practitioners were not in existence, there would have been a lot of loss of life every day. It is better imagined than experienced.
“The private sector is doing a lot in health care delivery, therefore, it deserves much support from government so that it can do more. Private hospitals require huge amounts to establish, maintain and sustain facilities. You need to take cognizance of the fact that it is a peculiar terrain. It is peculiar because you can’t really categorise it as a business, knowing that we oftentimes render social services.
“For example, somebody comes in the middle of the night, needing help. At that moment, you won’t think of money, yet, you need good finance to keep the facility running. Naturally, people go into businesses solely to make money, but health business is not like that. We save lives first. This is why government needs to support us in order to fulfil this essential social service. In the first place, it is the responsibility of government to take care of the health of the citizens.”
Jonathan urged government to arrange for a single-digit interest rate for private health care providers, saying that it would help in meeting more Nigerians’ health needs.
Many people believe that private hospitals’ charges are exorbitant. But Jonathan disagreed. He said doctors charge according to the quality of services rendered.
“The irony is that everybody in the society needs the doctor to save life, which is fine. But it goes beyond that because the private practitioner needs instruments, staff and also needs to pay government in terms of taxes. Government treats what we do as business, so it comes with different taxes and levies. If we don’t generate money, how do we meet up with these obligations? We don’t manufacture drugs we use in treating patients; we buy them as well. Generating money through patients is very important to us so that services can continue. Money is the blood of business.
“The funny thing is that by the time we finish treating patients, some of them have the money, but they will not want to pay for the service. They simply feel that the emergency is over. Truly, some patients cannot pay, and when that is established, many of our colleagues write off the bill, but some we know can pay but are unwilling to do so. That is why we insist that they should pay before they leave,” he said.
At the event, AGPMPN’s chairman, Dr. S. T. Akintade, charged his colleagues not to relent in offering quality service to Nigerians despite the daunting challenges facing the sector.
He said the association was working round the clock to improve health care delivery in the state, and commended the state government for its continuous monitoring and evaluation to ensure that those who compromise standards were fished out and accordingly dealt with.