Monday, 21 July 2014

Doctors' Strike - Private Hospitals, Herbalists Rip-Off Patients

Abuja — Following the strike embarked upon by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), which has paralysed activities in government health facilities in the country, private hospital operators are taking advantage of the situation to extort patients, Saturday Independent findings have revealed.

The strike by the NMA is almost three weeks old now.

Findings by Saturday Independent revealed that the strike by the NMA has led to high patronage of the private hospitals by patients.

A visit to some private hospitals in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and its satellite towns showed high presence of patients at the facilities.

The situation has also led to increased patronage of traditional medicine dealers by some patients, especially the poor, who cannot afford the exorbitant charges in private hospitals.

A private hospital operator in Masaka, a satellite town close to the FCT, confirmed to Saturday Independent that since the strike began, there has been an upsurge in the number of patients visiting her clinic.

The owner of Bold Step Clinic, Masaka, Victoria Umbugadu, responding to inquiries by Saturday Independent, said: "I must confess to you that since the strike started the number of patients we get has doubled.

"Before the strike, we used to attend to less than 30 patients in a day but now our record shows that we get no fewer than 65 patients a day.

"The strike has really exposed the high poverty level in the country. People usually go to government hospitals that are relatively cheap and get treatment almost free but now they have to pay higher charges, which most times they pay in instalments because they cannot afford to pay at once.

"The doctors must think twice and call off this strike because poor people are suffering. Some people who cannot afford our charges resort to patronizing traditional medicine practitioners."

A visit to Safron Hospital in Mararaba showed that the number of patients that visit the facility has increased compared to what it was before the strike.

A nurse at the hospital told Saturday Independent: "The number of our patients has increased since the beginning of the strike. Even though we are not happy about the strike, I must tell you that the income we now generate in the hospital daily has doubled.

"Before the strike, we used to get not up to 60 patients in a day but now, we attend to close to 100 patients. Because of the increase in the number of patients, our medical director has brought in some doctors to assist till the strike ends."

A visit to Garki Hospital, a private facility, also showed a remarkable increase in the number of patients to the hospital.

A worker in the records office of the hospital who pleaded anonymity confirmed this to Saturday Independent at the hospital premises on Thursday, saying: "Even though our charges here are high compared to those of some hospitals in the capital city, the number of patients patronising us has increased since the strike started."

On whether this has also increased the income generated by the hospital, she said: "Yes. It is natural, the more the patients the more the income. But most times, some poor patients, get stranded here and are assisted by the hospital management to offset their bills."

However, a medical consultant at the National Hospital who refused to mention his name noted that the strike by the doctors has successfully paralysed activities in the hospital.

"We are doing nothing here. As consultants, you know there is a limit to what we can do. We cannot operate fully without the doctors. They are a very important part of the hospital chain, so working without them is terrible. There is no way we can operate very well unless they are back," he said.

Similarly a pharmacist at the Wuse General Hospital said the strike has crippled all aspects of the hospital, adding; "We are not doing anything. What can we do without the doctors? As far as I am concerned, health services are at a standstill in government hospitals. Let us not deceive ourselves."

In an interview with Saturday Independent, a traditional medicine practitioner in Kado in the FCT, Abdulrauf Bode, said the number of patients patronising him has also increased.

"Many people are coming to get medicine from us. Some people don't have money to go to private hospitals, so, they come here and we help them with herbs," he said.

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