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‘How private health facilities turned death traps’

By Kemi Olatunde

About two decades ago while I was pregnant with my first child, I was in a private hospital in Akure to register for antenatal care. I did some necessary blood test as usual only to be informed that I was HIV positive. I became shattered and devastated. My husband didn’t help the situation as he began to confess his atrocities. Life became unbearable for us. We prayed and wept together even as we kept on having pity for the unborn child. After weeks of living with our predicament, I summoned courage to have the HIV test done elsewhere and this time, I tested negative. I lacked the correct adjective to describe the joy that filled my heart because I have been faithful to my husband. If not for God, the thought of being positive even when I was not could have killed me. I could have died from over thinking, in fact I could have committed suicide.”

The above were the words of a civil servant in Ondo State who craved anonymity while narrating her experience with The Hope.

So many residents have fallen prey to the unprofessionalism which at times is being portrayed by health workers especially in private hospitals. This will continue to be a recurring occurrence because it has been observed that most health workers in these hospitals are not certified by professional bodies of health. For instance, a scenario where a group of persons are trained within their hospital premises. 

Recently, a female unemployed Geography graduate resorted to training in a well known private hospital in Akure. According to her, it will fast track her desire to become employed even at the detriment of people’s health.

Hospitals are expected to be institutions for healthcare typically providing specialized treatment for inpatient (or overnight) stays. Some hospitals primarily admit patients with a specific disease or affliction, or are reserved for the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting a specific age group. Others have a mandate that expands beyond offering dominantly curative and rehabilitative care services to include promotional, preventive and educational roles as part of a primary healthcare approach. 

A business man, Mr. Ajibade Bayo described private hospitals as death traps, noting that they parade large number of unqualified staff to attend to patients.

“Government is expected to monitor these health facilities on regular basis. How do one explain a situation where a staff cannot give first aid treatment to a three year old child who was rushed into the hospital due to high temperature? I took my child to a private clinic sometimes ago and I was shocked to see the staff who claimed to be a nurse put a call through to the doctor to ask for the treatment she would administer in order to calm the child. If it were to be something serious, what would have happened? I don’t patronize private hospitals, I only did then because it was close to my house and besides, a lot of people have bitter experiences at one private hospital or the other,” he said.

A teacher, Mrs Abiodun Adesola said that most hospitals are in operation to make money irrespective of the purse of the patient.

She described government hospitals as the place to get the best medical attention, stating that they have qualified personnel in large numbers 

“The medical officer of any private hospital cannot specialize in all areas. When he is confronted with an ailment which is not within his jurisdiction, he calls on his colleagues who most times may not respond immediately. This explains why more people die in private hospitals unlike government hospitals. I am privileged to have this information because I have friends who are medical doctors.”

A private school teacher, Mrs Funmi Emmanuel said that she lost her newborn baby in a private hospital due to poor staff.

Her words; “A few years ago, while I was in labour, I was taken to a popular private hospital in the Oke Aro area of Akure. The doctor said I would deliver through Ceaseran Section which was done immediately but my baby died. I could remember that the baby was given to me alive when she was brought out but she gave up the ghost a few minutes later due to negligence.

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“The doctor said the team tried to resuscitate me after the baby was brought out as I passed out hence, leaving the baby unattended to. I think it was when I was stabilized that they remembered the baby who was already gone then.

“I am sure that if the hospital had qualified hands, I would still be with my child. After some months, I noticed that my stomach was big and I went back to the hospital, after series of medical checks, I was told to pay a huge amount of money to treat infection. There was no way I could raise the money and I have not been able to conceive since then.

“Not quite long, I was at another popular private hospital which is owned by a retired government doctor. A friend of mine told me about the place and I visited it. My blood was to be taken and it was not easy for them to get my vein. The way they kept inserting the needle was painful and I reacted only for the doctor to tell me he would give me a dirty slap. Nobody told me before I went back to government hospital.”

A relation of a victim, Bisi Alonge explained that most deaths in private hospitals could be avoided with the right medical personnel, stressing the need for government monitoring of the facilities.

Her words; “About three years ago, my 68-year-old mother fell ill due to her inability to eat breakfast on time. She ate around 1pm and started vomiting. She was rushed to a private hospital and before we knew it, her stomach was swollen. The doctor attributed the condition to her inability to pass out feaces or fart. She was in pains for days even as the doctor kept administering different medications on her. She was in that state for so long until someone suggested that we leave the hospital for a government one where she was well treated. 

“Government should look into the way people die anyhow in private hospitals. When they know that they are incapable of managing an ailment, they keep the patient to their own advantage, they should at least place value on people’s lives instead of giving priority to money.”

An Abuja based engineer who does not want his name in print said that his late dad became a victim of premature death at a private hospital. 

He explained that his father kept receiving treatments for an undisclosed illness at the facility until he could no longer move. 

According to him; “My father held the doctor in high esteem and did not doubt his ability to cure him of his illness. He visited the hospital at the slightest headache not until he couldn’t visit the hospital. He was then taken to the then State Specialist Hospital, Akure, where he was diagnosed of heart failure before he died. I believe that private hospitals are wreaking more havoc than good.”

According to a civil servant who craved anonymity, a well known private hospital in Akure sent her late mother to an early grave due to wrong diagnosis and treatment.

She explained that “she was sick and was taken to a private hospital in Oluwatuyi area of Akure. We never knew she had high sugar level but she was treated for malaria until it was too late before a Widal test was done. The test revealed that her sugar level was 650 and she died two hours later. That test ought to have been done immediately she was brought in but they never did that until she was almost dead.”

A female trainee in a private hospital in Akure who doesn’t want her name in print attributed her passion for nursing to the training in the facility, stating that auxiliary nurses are better equipped practically.

She said; “I graduated from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State few years ago from the department of Management and Accounting but initially I was admitted to study Physiotherapy. 

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“I had to change my course of study due to financial constraints. I developed interest in Nursing at a tender age and that is why I want to practice it.

“Practically, auxiliary nurses are good but theoretically, it’s a no go area. They have all the experience as they are mostly trained practically. I can say that most of them are better than Doctors in terms of experience as the more cases they handle, the better they become.”

A Medical Director of a private Clinic in Akure who craved anonymity blamed the excesses of some private health facilities on failure of government and Medical and Dental Council Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) to do the needful.

While lamenting the dwindling economy, he stated that it has forced most auxiliary nurses to put up a health facility; hospital, clinic and maternity, saying “nobody is asking for their license.”

He explained that the training acquired by Nigerian Doctors restrict them from going beyond their limit, stating that most private hospitals call on Consultants to handle health issues in their areas of specialisation.

While lamenting the sentimental nature of the regulatory bodies, he said; “There is no way we won’t have health facilities performing beyond expectation because those in charge of inspection cover those who operate the substandard hospitals. For instance, there is a clinic being managed by a retired auxiliary nurse from the then State Specialist Hospital, Akure, and with the environment alone, you will know that it is not standard but because of the owner’s relationship with those in the Ministry of Health, it has been in operation with the fact that it is not owned by a Medical Doctor.”

Speaking on the recruitment of licensed staff in private hospitals, he explained that private hospitals prefer auxiliary nurses due to cost reduction.

His words; “There is no way registered nurses can be well paid in private hospitals due to the economy. We cannot give patients exorbitant bills; we can’t treat Malaria fever as high as N30000 because we want to pay our registered nurses. Everybody is trying to survive and we are being considerate of our patients. 

“Those we employ are performing as long as we give them on the job training. In towns like Ondo, Ore etc, auxiliary nurses, Pharmacists have hospitals.”

He called for the regulation of activities of private health facilities saying “hospitals of those who are not Medical Doctors should be closed as there are statutory laws guiding all health facilities.

He also called for the training of personnel of private hospitals on attainment of global best practices, saying “there is shortage of Doctors in Nigeria and people especially those at the grassroots patronize private health facilities for medical attention.”

Ondo State Chairman, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Adeyemi Osowe who spoke with The Hope on phone denied that allegation, stating that most hospitals in the state are of standard.

He said; “The statement cannot be a general one even though some of them may not do the needful. We have well equipped and very good hospitals in the state. The statement is not official and I will not agree with the notion.

“I know quite a number of them which I visit for medical attention. Although a lot of them are just coming up and there is difference between hospital, clinic and medical centre. A lot of them are clinics and are owned by other health practitioners who are not qualified medical Doctors especially in the outskirt of Akure.

“It behoves on the Ministry of Health to monitor these mushroom health facilities who parade themselves as hospitals which they have been doing as I have also been involved in the monitoring alongside the Ministry.”

Speaking further, he explained that the association have addressed such cases before now noting that no such case has been brought to the fur in his dispensation.

Efforts to get the response of the Commissioner for Health proved abortive as he said while speaking with The Hope a few days ago on phone that he is yet to receive information on such 

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In July, 2023, Oyo State Government shut five private hospitals in Ibadan as part of measures towards safeguarding the health and well-being of residents.

The spokesperson to the Oyo State government, Rotimi Babalola, disclosed it in a statement.

“The five private healthcare facilities in Ibadan were sealed for non-compliance with regulatory standards,” Babalola said.

“The facilities were also found guilty of employing unqualified and unlicensed doctors, commonly referred to as quack doctors,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Director for Secondary health care and training in Oyo State, Dr. Wale Falana had spoken about the operations of the affected private hospitals which are below the approved standard.

Falana while on an inspection tour at Olodo and Moniya axis of Ibadan said that the action became necessary after an extensive monitoring and evaluation of hospital facilities was carried out within Oyo state.

“The inspection revealed alarming evidence of malpractice, misdiagnoses and inappropriate treatments being administered to unsuspected patients,” the medical doctor said.

“The five health care facilities sealed were found to be lacking in terms of equipment, personnel, and compliance with standard medical regulations.

“Also, some hospitals were staffed with unqualified personnel who were practicing medicine without the required qualifications and license.”

Falana while expressing concern also issued a stern warning to hospitals whether private or government-owned not to compromise on the quality of healthcare offered to patients.

According to him, the five private hospitals which were sealed will remain closed until they meet up with the requirements and standards set by the regulatory bodies.

“This administration underscores its commitment to ensuring that health care services in the Oyo State adhere to the highest standards of quality and professionalism,” he said.

“The government of the day, distinguished health as one of the cardinal programmes, consequently, His Excellency, Engr. Seyi Makinde takes the health of the people as essential, which is the reason behind the Omi-titun free health mission held quarterly throughout the state.

“We will not tolerate any compromise in medical standards that could put lives at risk. Our action in closing these hospitals demonstrates our commitment to maintaining quality healthcare delivery within our state.”

In September 2023, National President, Nigerian Private Medical Practitioners, Dr. Kayode Adesola in an interview explained that negligence is not attributed to only private hospitals

According to him; “That is not necessarily in the private sector. There is a bias against the private sector which is not necessary. In how many of the private hospitals has that happened and who says it doesn’t happen in the public hospitals as well? Let the people that go abroad come and tell us the people (doctors) that are superior there. We have the best of the best Nigerian doctors in those places they go to and they have to pay and wait for an appointment before they can see them. They know what they see out there but they can’t come back and tell us.

According to findings, the potential harm from diagnostic errors could range from no harm to significant harm, including morbidity or death. Errors can be harmful because they can prevent or delay appropriate treatment, lead to unnecessary or harmful treatment, or result in psychological or financial repercussions. Harm may not result, for example, if a patient’s symptoms resolve even with an incorrect diagnosis. Diagnostic errors and near misses may also lead to inefficiency in health care organizations (e.g., the provision of unnecessary treatments) and increase system costs unnecessarily (covering the costs of otherwise unnecessary care or medical liability expenses). Diagnostic errors and near misses influence both the morale of individuals participating in the diagnostic process and public trust in the health care system. Correct diagnoses, diagnostic errors, and near misses can be used as opportunities to learn how to improve the work system and the diagnostic process.

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