Patients evade council clinics, flood ‘free’ hospitals

DOCTORS at State-run central hospitals have decried the free user-fee policy, saying patients are avoiding local clinics and trooping to government hospitals, resulting in the institutions choking and battling to stay afloat.

BY TALENT GUMPO

The free user-fee policy scrapped fees for pregnant women, the elderly (over 65), children under five years and psychiatric patients seeking medical attention.

Speaking at a meeting with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women and Youth Affairs on Monday, United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH), acting chief executive officer, Narcisius Dzvanga said patients were no longer using local council clinics to avoid paying $30; they go to central hospitals which function as referral centres for serious cases.

“We are caught up between patients who argue that they have the right to choose which hospital they want to be treated at and we cannot stop them. We are supposed to be taking referred cases and we have written to the director of city health before, asking him to make sure they contain straightforward cases,” he said.

“Patients come here straight and we use resources on simple cases that do not require a specialist’s attention for free and there is nothing we can do.”

Dzvanga said the Health ministry should strengthen referral systems to ensure patients do not visit referral centres just to avoid paying user fees.

“There used to be zoning system which confined patients to go to clinics or hospitals near them, but then they [patients] argued that they hold the right to choose a clinic or hospital of their own and this is hindering the smooth running of central hospitals who are left operating with meagre budgets, putting a lot of strain on the practice,” he said.

Dzvanga said the financially hamstrung hospitals were left to “perform miracles”.

“We are performing miracles because there is no money. Any money that comes in goes to our debts or equipment that would be required urgently. We still have to feed patients, buy X-ray films and all of that,” he said.

“That is why we end up making patients buy resources required to save their lives; we do not have a choice. We are willing to help those who have resources required to save their lives because other than that, we might as well close shop.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting Women and Youth Committee chairperson Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said there was confusion on the free user fee policy as local clinics disregard the directive, while the policy was upheld at government level.

“People are no longer going to clinics where they are supposed to pay $30, they come to provincial clinics where we saw an overflow of pregnant women with some on floor beds risking infections. Central hospitals are raising concerns that now they have an added responsibility, yet resources were not enough anyway now that poses a problem,” she said.

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