Doctors who spoke to our correspondent warned that if the country’s fortune does not change for good, more private hospitals may shut down due to low patronage.
They expressed concerns that mortality rates might soar, as many patients with terminal illnesses such as stroke and diabetes have stopped their treatments due to lack of funds.
Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr. Adeoye Oyewole, complained to our correspondent on Tuesday that patients’ patronage at his private practice in Osogbo, Osun state, have dropped abysmally.
He quickly noted that the poor attendance recorded at the clinic was not because such cases had reduced, but rather due to the fact that patients can no longer offset their medical bills.
He lamented that patients have turned to unconventional but “cheaper” alternatives for their health needs.
“I work both in private and public sectors and I can tell you that patients are no longer coming. At least before now, the patient load could be so much such that you have to turn back some cases. But now, they don’t even come at all. They will rather go to herbalists whose services are cheaper but deadly.
“One of my old patients stopped his medications and engaged a herbalist because he could not pay his previous bills, or afford to buy new drugs again.
“He was rushed in almost unconscious yesterday because he had attempted to kill a friend after hearing voices that told him to do so. This young man, who had managed his mental challenges for years while working, sought the services of a herbalist when he could no longer afford his treatment,” Oyewole said.
The expert in psychiatry told our correspondent that the economic situation had also increased emergency cases, as many Nigerians now wait till they are critically ill before they seek treatment.
“Before now, relatives will bring patients when they are seeing some symptoms of mental illnesses; but now, because they don’t have money, they wait till the patients have attempted suicide before they bring them to the clinic.
“I have not seen patients this broke. I have not seen doctors this broke either. Many Nigerians will drink dogonyaro (neem tree) water to treat malaria because they don’t have N500 to buy anti-malaria drugs.”
Corroborating his colleague’s views, the Medical Director, Daysprings Hospitals, Ajah, Dr. Samuel Adebayo, told our correspondent that pregnant women now opt to deliver in churches and also in illegal maternity homes.
Adebayo, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said that many of the women who had registered at the clinic seek these alternatives due to lack of money to pay for delivery.
He said, “Patronage has dropped among patients in general; but it is worse among pregnant women. They now deliver their babies in churches’ maternity homes under the supervision of unskilled persons. They do that because they pay little amount of money, even though they could die in the process.
“Many of them, when I checked their cards, were already owing the clinic N500 or N1,000 during their antenatal. Do you think they will come back for delivery? These are patients that had their babies with us in the past but are forced to seek dangerous alternatives due to the state of the economy.”
The physician noted that patients with terminal diseases such as stroke and hypertension, who can no longer pay for their drugs and treatment now resign to fate.
Adebayo stated that now is the time for government to subsidise health insurance coverage for Nigerians in the informal sector, as patients can no longer afford out-of-pocket payment for health services.
He said, “I have a hypertensive patient who had stroke and was brought in unconscious a week ago. We needed to do a CT scan of the brain, but the family didn’t have money for the test. They also could not pay for a neurologist to assess his brain. The relatives took the patient home to die after I stabilised him.
“They brought him back some days later. I managed him and he was discharged this morning without making any payment.”
These are also challenging times for managers of public health institutions. Our correspondent gathered that government subventions have crashed by 80 per cent in some federal hospitals.
The Chief Medical Director, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Richard Adebayo, said the hospital’s monthly overhead allocation from the Federal Government has dropped from N14m to N2.9m.
Adebayo, who spoke to our correspondent on Tuesday, said the hospital had yet to receive funds for capital projects this year.
He said, “Instead of our overhead allocation, which used to be N14m every month, we now get between N2.9 and N3.2m. We have not increased our charges because most of our patients will not be able to pay. We want to generate more revenues internally, but it’s a challenge because we don’t do surgeries.
“We’re grateful that our salaries are being paid and we understand the fact that government is also not finding it funny because of dwindling price of crude; but the financial climate is biting us harder than harmattan.”
Adebayo urged governments to adopt genuine public-private partnership initiatives to address the challenge of funding.
He also called on the Federal Government to be prudent in its spending, in order to make room for funding of important projects in the health sector.