Will ban on doctors’ private practice save health sector?
by MABEL DIMMA
October 15, 2017 | 11:00 am| | | Start Conversation
Nigeria's Minister of Health Isaac Folorunso Adewole attends an emergency National Council on Health meeting on the control of Lassa Fever in Abuja, Nigeria January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde - RTX231AG
When teachers go on strike, parents have several options on what to do with their wards – like private home lessons, vocational studies, and holiday with family members. But when doctors go on strike, palpable fear takes hold of the citizenry. Those who have ailing loved ones, pregnant women, accident victims and many others in such dire state feel the brunt because they cannot afford the often high medical bills from the private hospitals many of which often lack professionals and equipment.
People lose their lives and conditions of others deteriorate drastically while praying and hoping that government will heed the cry of these professionals in white coat who hold the key to helping save lives.
The government has been having a running battle with health workers, the last being the strike action by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU).
Also, it is not uncommon to hear tales from the streets of doctors in government-owned hospitals and at different levels running their own private hospitals, clinics and laboratories and oftentimes referring patients from these public hospitals to their personal facilities.
So, when Isaac Adewole, minister of health, announced after Wednesday’sFederal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja that the federal government has taken a decision to ban doctors working in government hospitals from involving in private practice, many saw it as a sign of good things to come.
According to him, a technical committee had been set up to look at the Yayale Ahmed report on the health sector, which was the outcome of a panel set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan to look into “unhealthy rivalries” among healthcare professionals.
“For us in the health sector, the most important is the need to do comprehensive job evaluation, so government has decided to set up a committee that would evaluate what exactly we do as individuals, how much should we be paid in a way that we can really pay appropriately across board through the entire country.
“Council also looked at the issue of residency training programme and decided that the training should last for a fixed time of seven years after which individuals should exit from the programme so that other people can come into the programme.
“Council has also decided to look into the issue of private practice by medical doctors in the public sector and a committee has been set up to look extensively into that issue because we want to resolve the issue of what the law of the land states and what the rule of professional ethics says.
“The law of the land does not allow any public officer to do anything other than farming, so that committee would make appropriate recommendation to government on these important issues which is of considerable interest to quite a number of Nigerians.
“In addition to that, we will also look at the Yayale Ahmed report which tried to look into the relationship between professional groups in the health sector; and the office of the SGF has been mandated to forward a white paper on the Yayale Ahmed report to the FEC so that once and for all, government can restore harmony to the health sector,” Adewole said.
When the story broke on social media, of course, several Nigerians responded, sharing their thoughts on the development. The responses came in torrents.
“FG’s policy to ban medical doctors under government employment from private practice is a perfect one. Let our doctors face their jobs,” said one concerned Nigerian.
“Hope government has also approved wages of senators for them too. They serve better purpose than our senators,” another said.
“I tell you, it’s a laudable move. My dad almost lost his life because of this issue. I commend the FG and Minister of Health for this”, said yet another.
“When they have an alternative they misbehave, but when the government pay is the only source, they will take it seriously,” someone commented.
“Doctors working in FG hospitals same time owning a private clinic is pure conflict of interest. Imagine a banker giving side loan to customers,” said a concerned father.
“When the government is ready to review the benefit the doctors receive and working conditions, they can successfully implement such policy,” noted a lawyer.
“@APCNigeria not about making law to cripple people. A man that says his wife should be full house wife should be ready for bills,” said another.
Meanwhile in the mentioned report, areas of conflict were broadly categorised into organisational management, leadership and teamwork, remuneration and motivation, career management, capacity building, professional practice, labour, legal and governance issues.
These are the issues many Nigerians airing their views on the proposed ban urged the government to look into and come up with lasting solutions to the age-long malaise plaguing the health industry.
Also of great importance is the dismal funding of this critical sector by the respective levels of government. At the federal level this year, a meagre 4.17 percent of N7.298trn budget was allocated to the sector and presented by the president to the National Assembly for approval.
According to reports by Health and Managed Care Association of Nigeria, a stakeholders’ retreat on immunisation, health financing and the National Health Act urged the federal government to allocate 7.5 percent of the 2018 budget to health sector with a view to attaining 15 percent by 2026.
For a country whose number one citizen sought medical help in faraway Europe, many would think that health facilities and funding would be its priorities. Every day, the national dailies are awash with the travel of different government officials seeking medical relief abroad; and this doesn’t seem about to end anytime soon.
Will this ban, if enforced, address the incessant outbreaks of serious epidemics like cholera, lassa fever, high maternal and child deaths and poor health emergency responses, malnutrition across the country?
Many believe that just placing an outright ban without addressing these pertinent issues will be tantamount to putting the cart before the horse, as it will not resolve anything; instead it will push many of those in the medical field to embark on mass exodus to greener pastures.
According to some observers, while it is good to quote the law of the land which does not allow any public officer to do anything, apart from farming, government should know that the economic situation in the same land calls for multiple streams of income. And what better way for a medical practitioner to earn extra cash than to merchandise his or her trade?
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