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How hospitals shut services, charge patients over high cost of diesel

The high cost of diesel has forced organisations rendering essential services to adjust their operational hours.  Of these essential services, the health sector hasn’t been…

The high cost of diesel has forced organisations rendering essential services to adjust their operational hours.  Of these essential services, the health sector hasn’t been spared the hassles accompanying the rising cost of fuel and diesel, with many running skeletal services while others have shut down temporarily. With a number of hospitals opting to increase their consultancy fee to enable them carry out services, patients on the other hand have had to bear the brunt of such decisions. Daily Trust on Sunday in this report looked at measures taken by hospitals to cushion the high cost of diesel. 

 

From Salim Umar Ibrahim (Kano), Magaji lsa Hunkuyi (Jalingo), Jeremiah Oke (Ibadan) & Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt)

 

Recently in the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, a 45-year-old father of a patient, Adeniji Kazeem said, “I don’t pray for my enemies to experience what we are going through here.”

Adeniji further said he sold his Toyota Camry car to care for his three-year-old boy, Olakunle, who has been admitted in the hospital since February this year.

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“We buy everything in this place. To make the matter worse, the management of the hospital complained about the hike in the price of diesel. Unfortunately, the health of my boy is not stable. It is better to pray not to have a reason to seek medical attention,” he said.

He urged the federal government to ensure that the issue of fuel is resolved before Nigerians begin to die cheaply.

“The issue is not limited to diesel; it affects all engine fuel. My wife spends more money on transportation whenever she goes home to take things for us. We need urgent attention,” he added.  

The UCH, which is the first university teaching hospital in Nigeria, via an internal memo circulated on June 21, approved the payment of an additional N1,000 daily electricity fee to the service charge by each patient in the facility.   

According to the memo, signed by the administrator of the hospital, Wole Oyeyemi on behalf of the chairman of the Medical Advisory Committee and Chief Medical Director, the decision was reached owing to “the recurring power outage in the hospital, high cost of electricity tariff and inflation in the price of diesel, which have impeded stable power supply.”

It was learnt that the flagship tertiary health care institution in Nigeria spends about N20m monthly on the purchase of diesel, while also paying between N57m and N60m monthly to the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) for power supply that is not constant. 

Meanwhile, stakeholders in Ibadan are lamenting the consequences of the recurring power outage and increase in petroleum prices, which are adversely affecting patients in various hospitals.

Some of them who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday said the health care system depended on fuel to power life-saving medical equipment and run some essential services in theatres, blood banks and diagnostics centres. 

Also, families of some of the patients said they were overwhelmed with the situation, and prayed that their loved ones would recover on time and leave the hospital.

They said the electricity fee was an additional burden on patients, who already had to settle huge medical bills.  

Mrs Tolu Tomori, a relative of a patient, however, said she understood the hospital’s policy to mean that a patient would pay a one-off sum of N1,500 after being discharged and not on a daily basis.

“All the same, I care less about the amount. I only pray that my loved one recovers for us to leave the UCH because of the stress and cost of accessing health services,” she said.

An official of the UCH blood bank who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity said irregular power supply and the rising cost of fuel price were affecting their ability to render optimal services.

“We swore an oath to save patients’ lives, to the best of our ability. However, lack of power supply is affecting our work greatly.

“When a generator is in use, the available power is rationed based on priority.

“There are many important parts of the hospital that need constant power supply. For instance, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and the blood bank are on the priority list.

“At times, when there is an important surgery to be done, power will be made available for that purpose.  

“But there are times that we at the blood bank don’t have power supply. When we have an emergency, we go to the engineering unit to ask for power.

“In short, it has not really been very easy. It is affecting our work because all our refrigerators use power.

“Due to the prevailing situation, we have had to decline our donors, putting them on schedule to reduce the number of blood units we have to store, which ought not to be so,” the source said.

The source also said the situation was negatively affecting the effective storage of reagents.

“Power supply must be constant because we have to maintain what we call cold chain. Power cannot be out from the reagents for more than 10 minutes.

“There are times we have to borrow a small power generator to be on standby for emergency situations.

“We are doing all we can because we recognise that life is not replaceable. So, our services have to be timely.

“But seriously, every member in the medical team is stressed over the lack of adequate power supply,” the source added.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Oyo State branch of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr Ayotunde Fasunla, said increasing universal health coverage would ensure that all have access to the needed health care services without suffering financial hardship.

“The UCH belongs to the federal government. Initially, the government allowed them to generate funds, but every fund generated now goes into the Treasury Single Account (TSA), so they no longer have the liberty to spend as they used to.

“We are in total darkness in UCH, so the management of the hospital has to devise a means that would deliver quality services to the patients.

“The NMA cannot be against any decision taken by the management of any hospital to make sure that patients are seen, inasmuch as it is not an exorbitant price.

“It is quite unfortunate, but the only thing that can help the populace is if everyone is on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS),” he said.

According to him, it is sad that with the high cost of living owing to inflation, people still have to pay, even in a situation where income does not increase proportionately.

In her opinion, the operations director, Total Healthcare Diagnostics Limited, Ibadan, Mrs Funmilola Mapayi, said the finances and operations of the centre had not been spared by the rising cost of fuel.

She said the health care sector was in a dire need of financial help and intervention from the government.

Dr Akin Sodipo, who runs a private hospital in the state, said the situation had forced health care facilities to further reduce their energy consumption. This, he said, could worsen the quality of care provided to patients. 

Sodipo, who is also a former chairman of the NMA, Oyo State branch, identified the astronomical fuel hike as a factor contributing to the spikes experienced in the cost of health care and essential services.

“The present situation is worrisome. Although we have not increased anything across board, we are going to, as the diesel goes from N450 to N850 per litre.

“With prices going up astronomically, every utility and essentials have gone up, and we are not getting any subvention from anywhere,” he said.

He said patients might have to bear the brunt, just as some of the teaching hospitals had been charging them utility bills.

“It is unfortunate. If the government sets its mind to it, everything can be done to ease the burden on citizens. As it is, even for the workers, the cost of transportation has gone up.

“There is always a subvention for any hike that cuts across utility,” he added.  

Patients lament poor services in Port Harcourt hospitals

Also, many patients are complaining about poor services and high cost of medical treatment in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.

Some of the hospitals visited by our correspondent in Port Harcourt are rendering skeletal services as a result of poor electricity and the inability of the hospital management to cope with the high cost of fueling their power generating sets.

In the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, relatives of patients are moving their loved ones out of the facility because its management cannot afford the cost of running their generators.

“There is no light in the hospital. They told us that their generators had broken down and they could not afford the cost of fueling. 

“The hospital cannot carry out surgery because there is no electricity. Patients who go to consult with doctors use their phones to provide light for doctors on duty at night. This is really bad,” a source who recently moved his brother out of the facility said.

There was a report that 9 babies in incubators at the hospital died as a result of power failure, but its public relations officer, Elabha Meni, said the report was false.

Meni said the teaching hospital was known as a centre of excellence, citadel of training, research and health care delivery, adding that the institution maintained world’s best medical standard, which makes it one of the best medical centres in the South South and Nigeria in general.

More so, a medical doctor in a private hospital in Port Harcourt who did not want his name mentioned, said the high cost of fuel and diesel was affecting their services.

“We are operating at a loss. We spend so much money buying fuel for our generators. There is no electricity, so we rely on generating sets. We have to charge very high in order to recoup our expenses; so the patients bear the burden,” he said.

Taraba hospitals relymore on solar

Hospitals in Taraba State now rely on solar power to operate their equipment due to the high cost of diesel, findings by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed.

At the Federal Medical Centre, Jalingo, sources told Daily Trust on Sunday that before the increase in the price of diesel, the facility was consuming over 300 litres of the product to power its giant generating plants on a daily basis, but that has been reduced drastically.

The head of one of the units in the centre, who would not like his name mentioned, told our correspondent that before the increase in the price of diesel, his unit used to get an allocation of over 60 litres daily, but now, he hardly gets 20 litres per day.

He said all the departments in the centre were using solar power to operate their equipment.

“The price of diesel per litre is N1,050; therefore, it is not possible to have enough supply as before,” a source in the centre said.

He added that apart from the high cost of the product, there is poor power supply from the Yola power distribution company.

Another source at the centre told our correspondent that the solar power system, which is supposed to be a backup, is being overused due to power demands by various departments.

Another staff at the centre said management was considering increasing charges for its services but the decision was suspended because of poor financial capability of those patronising the facility.

Daily Trust on Sunday could not speak with the medical director of the centre, Dr Aisha Adamu Shehu as she was said to have travelled out of the state.

The situation is the same at the Specialist Hospital, Jalingo, where most of the departments rely on solar power to operate their equipment. 

Two edge sword in Kano

Kano State government is bearing the brunt of govt hospitals while private hospitals grumble over the increasing price in diesel.

In Kano, the Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital is one of the busiest medical facilities within and outside the state, regardless of economic class.

During a visit to the facility, Daily Trust on Sunday observed that it still runs its diesel-powered generator consistently.

The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the hospital, Dr Hussaini Muhammad, told our correspondent that despite the scarcity and high price of diesel, the state government is doing its best to keep the facility running.

“You know we operate round the clock and we cannot afford to run out of power due to the kind of equipment we are using. We thank God and thank the state government for its tireless support to us.

“Every month, we receive nothing less than 8,000 litres of diesel, and it is okay for us. We have reservoir and tanks we use to store it.

“When we are about to run short and there’s delay in supply, we buy like two drums, and before it finishes, they usually bring another 8,000 litres,” he said.

He said the hospital had been rationing power and cutting down on supply to sections that do not need them 24 hours a day.

“We plan well. When a particular section like the administrative block is not in use, we normally shut down the power of that section until the staff there are back to work, including my office, so that we can manage the situation well,” he added.

Further engagement with people in the hospital revealed that the issue of constant power is not a problem, and the high cost of diesel has not had real impact on the cost of services rendered by the hospital.

This is unlike the case in the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), where management has jerked up the cost of services in order to meet up with “the economic realities” in the country.

The case in the AKTH is similar to what is obtainable at majority of private hospitals in the state as the cost of services has continued to hit the roof owing to the high cost of diesel.

Prime Alliance Multi-care Specialist Hospital is one of the most functional and well structured private hospitals in Kano. Dr Ayuba Rabiu, a consultant gynaecologist in the hospital, who spoke on behalf of the CMD, Nasir Ahmad Ishaq, said the facility used to spend N1.6million every month on diesel, but now, with the scarcity and high cost of the product, they spend N2.6m every month.

“We just held a meeting on this issue and invited two companies that are installing inverters because we can’t continue like this. We are trying to go on inverters as an alternative.

“From N1.6m to N2.6m, this month, we spent close to N3m on diesel. We had never increased our price of rooms and other services, but this month, we couldn’t hold unto that. A room of N13,500 is now N15,000, just to compensate the expenses on diesel.

“We are now on consultation, and the first company has already submitted a proposal of almost N33m for the installation of inverters. It is not feasible, and we cannot close down business because of the many clients on our government approved health insurance scheme.

“In every 10 days, we repair the generator with nothing less than N250,000 because they always run non-stop for 12 hours. Some of our colleagues operating private ventures like ours have already shut down business,” he said.

He added that if the scarcity and high price continue then they would have no option than to start rescheduling and referring sensitive cases to government-owned hospitals.