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What ails the national referral hospital?

The national referral hospital, the country’s apex referral centre​,​ is not well.

For a place that’s considered a setting of healing and wellbeing, concerns have often been raised on the safety of patients and their attendants.  After the recent case of sexual abuse by a health official, the hospital is now accused of negligence following a patient’s death.

To allay the public clamour, the hospital administration and the health ministry assured the public that it would install CCTV cameras and frame standard operating procedures.  It claimed to have rolled out some measures, such as the Hospital Management and Administration Transformation (HMAT). It has been learnt that budgetary issues have held the installation of the cameras and that HMAT may not be enough to secure the safety of patients.

The institution, mired in its specialist retention strategy and corporatisation status continues to lose trained professionals. The ophthalmology department is facing an acute shortage of health personnel while the hospital had left its 3D ultrasound unused after a specialist resigned. The service has now resumed since the specialist provides voluntary service at the hospital.

Public confidence in the hospital has begun to wane and more patients are today flying abroad for medical treatment and consultation. Despite this reality, the hospital management remained complacent, reacting only when activities especially of criminal nature occurred. The mother and child hospital, which is still under construction, has already become controversial for its tendering process.

The state of the national referral hospital is often an indication of healthcare services provided in the country. The hospital and the health ministry were both involved in corruption cases in the past and going by recent audit findings, the practice of inflating travel and daily allowance, especially for donor funded projects appears to be entrenched in the system. These instances are enough to reveal the lack of monitoring and accountability in the institution that has the constitutional mandate to provide quality health care services to the people.

Although instituted late, the establishment of the quality assurance and standardisation division at the referral hospital in March last year is ​reassuring. To what extent the division has helped in improving the quality of healthcare is yet to be assessed. Its 5S – CQI (sort, set, shine, standard, sustain-continuous quality improvement) assessment last year saw the hospital scoring 93 percent, the highest rating among referral centres but patient satisfaction according to a survey was 79 percent.

While the hospital is making efforts to improve service delivery, such as the introduction of appointment systems, there is an urgent need to do more. The hospital has to plan its human resource requirement better so that service delivery is not aborted when a doctor or a nurse leaves. The national referral hospital must set the standards for quality health care in the country. When it is about saving lives and treating the sick, mediocrity is not an option.

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