The Sun News

Seeking health care in tears

•At ATBU Teaching Hospital, patients queue up for hours for treatment

From Paul Orude, Bauchi

At the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Teaching Hospital (ATBUTH), Bauchi, Bauchi State, trying to see a medical doctor is usually a difficult experience.

Just as Nigerians spend long hours in long queues at filling stations to get fuel, patients visiting ATBUTH and their relatives must wait long hours to see a doctor.

The policy is that bills must be paid before a patient is treated but this has a price.

It is part of the popular Treasury Single Account (TSA), a public accounting system using a single account or a set of linked accounts by government to ensure all revenue receipts and payments are done through a consolidated revenue account at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The TSA scheme coversall ministries, departments and agencies as well as other institutions and parastatals that collect revenues and monies payable to the federal government, including all forms of receipts, refunds, operating surpluses, transfers, donations, over-payment, taxes and Customs duties, with ATBUTH

With the new payment system at ATBUTH, the hospital is often crowded with patients in long queues daily waiting to pay bills to enable them get treatment.

There is a state-owned specialist hospital in Bauchi, the state capital, and many primary health care centres spread across the local governments in the state and the state capital, but thousands of patients still throng ATBUTH for treatment of even minor ailments.

When Daily Sun visited the out-patient department recently, hundreds of patients were waiting to see doctors, a departure from the vision of the hospital to provide accessible, affordable and efficient service.

The expressions on the faces of patients said it all: anger, disillusionment and anxiety.

While some were in wheelchairs, the weak, old and frail were lying on wooden benches or any available space they could find on the premises.

The story was not different at the paediatric ward, where several babies were observed whining, crying for attention or in pain as their mothers waited their turn.

Some patients, who lamented the situation, said that most of them usually spent close to seven hours before seeing a doctor.

The teaching hospital opens its doors to the public from 6am, for the morning session, while the afternoon session begins from 2pm.

As early as 5:30am, Nasiru Abdullahi, from Darazo, was already at the out-patient section to submit his hospital card. Yet, by 1:42pm, he was yet to see a doctor.

Abdullahi, who was holding an X-ray result, was suffering from chest pain.

“I came here early Tuesday morning and I waited till almost 1pm before I could see the doctor,” he said.

“Now, today, I am here with the result and this is almost 2pm; I have not seen a doctor.”

He had to queue to pay the consultation fee of N200, after which he joined the line to see the doctor..

“I first of all waited in the line for almost two hours to collect invoice. After collecting invoice, I used the invoice to pay the N200,” he said.

The following day, Abdullahi had to join the queue again to pay to carry out an X-ray, as requested by the doctor.

While queuing, Abdullahi and other patients complained about the payment system, with many saying that although the changes were good, it ought not to put patients at the receiving end.

Every patient – child, adult, the old, the weak – has to wait for hours before they see a doctor.

“This is terrible,” one of them observed.

Some argued that the situation was deliberately created to cause hardship and make the new payment system look deplorable.

“Government institutions are pipelines for corrupt practices and any attempt to checkmate and block leakages is mostly resisted,” someone noted.

“My brother, this queue is artificial and will gradually disappear, if the management refuses to budge,” he added. “Remember BVN, TSA, electronic receipts and others? They met lots of resistance, but we all know their benefits today.”

At ATBUTH, although men and women patients have different queues, women have no particular advantage as they have to go through the same harrowing experience as their queue is as long as the men’s.

Speaking on the situation, a public commentator opined: “I want to believe that the intention of the government was not to put hardship on the citizens. However, some people decided to deliberately make the process cumbersome. In most cities in Nigeria, especially in Abuja, people queue up to pay bills in the hospital. So I don’t see anything bad in it. What we can demand from the government are workers who are apt to work in order to reduce the stress.”

Chief medical director of the ATBUTH, Bauchi, Dr. Mohammed Alkali, said there were several payment points in the hospital, but most of the patients were not aware of that fact.

He said he had directed the public relations department of the hospital to create awareness so that issues regarding payment of bills would be less time-consuming.

“Different sets of patients visit our facility every day and newcomers do not know that there are several payment points; so we need to keep informing them,” Alkali said.

He said that the hospital was yet to operate as a teaching hospital due to some challenges in spite of its being upgraded from a specialist hospital to a teaching hospital in 2008.

The CMD lamented that the staff of the hospital were yet to change and adopt a more dedicated, focused direction and professionalism required to make the hospital operate in tandem with its status.

“We must imbibe the change mantra of the present administration. We must, therefore, develop a change culture that will tally with the norms of the new administration. We must set a pace that new comers into the hospital will imbibe to enable us transform from the old ways of doing things,” he said.

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