Health stakeholders express frustration over rising cost of fuel 



The rising cost of fuel, especially diesel, is beginning to take its toll on the nation’s healthcare delivery, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports.

Stakeholders in the health sector, on Friday in Ibadan, expressed the regret for the attendant consequences of the recurring power outage and increase in fuel prices, with the patients at the receiving end.

According to the respondents, the health care system depends on fuel to power life-saving medical equipment and run some essential services in theatres, blood banks and diagnostics centres.

Consequent upon the menace, the management of University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, recently mandated each in-patient to pay the sum of N1,000 daily for electricity.

The hospital had, via an internal memo, circulated on June 21, said that the high cost of electricity tariffs and the increasing price of diesel necessitated the decision to ask patients to shoulder the cost of power supply.

Families of patients, who spoke with NAN, said that they had become overwhelmed with the situation and prayed that their loved ones recover on time in order to leave the hospital.

According to them, the electricity fee is an additional burden on patients, who already have to settle huge medical bills.

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

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

An official of UCH blood bank, who spoke with NAN under condition of anonymity, said that irregular power supply and rising cost of fuel price were affecting the bank’s 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 of need.

“There are many important parts of the hospital that need constant power supply. For instance, the ICU and 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 to be deployed in the blood bank.

“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’ve 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 that the power issue 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 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,” said the source.

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

“UCH belongs to the Federal Government. Initially, government allowed them to generate fund, but every fund that is 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, and the management of the hospital has to device means that will deliver quality services to the patients.

“NMA cannot be against any decision taken by the management of any hospital to make sure that patients are seen, in as much 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 prices all shut up, people still have to pay in a situation whereby income does not increase proportionately.

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

She said that the healthcare sector was in dire need of financial help and intervention from the government.

Dr Akin Sodipo, who runs a private hospital, said that the situation had forced healthcare 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, NMA, Oyo State branch, identified the astronomical fuel hike as a factor contributing to the spikes experienced in the cost of healthcare and essential services.

“The present situation is worrisome. Although we have not increased anything across the 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 that 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 the 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 said.

Meanwhile, a medical officer, Dr Titi Oyewale, said that the situation, apart from putting the health of patients at risk, had become hurtful to the morale of healthcare workers, forcing many to leave the country. (NAN)