The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has decided to beam its searchlight on the health sector with the launch of Nigeria’s first Patients’ Bill of Rights (PBoR) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health. The bill is an aggregation of already existing patients’ rights as contained in the constitution, Consumer Protection Council Act, Freedom of Information Act, National Health Act, the Hippocratic Oath among others.

It is seen by its promoters as a definite step in ensuring peoples’ rights in the healthcare sector. The bill of rights is also intended to assist healthcare professionals and professional associations to identify and eliminate quacks, and educate those who are qualified, but unaware of their obligations as they relate to the rights of their patients. The provisions of the document also focuses on the responsibilities of patients themselves in an effort to address their healthcare needs. To this extent, therefore, patients have the right to considerate and respectful care which includes the right to be treated with dignity and respect just as they can seek to obtain complete, current information concerning their diagnosis, treatment and prognosis in terms that they can reasonably understand.

As stipulated in the bill, patients have a right to obtain copies of their medical reports by applying through the appropriate channels; seek second opinion about their disease or treatment from another practitioner; receive necessary information to enable them to give informed consent prior to the start of any procedure as well as refuse treatment to the extent permitted by law. They are also to be informed of the medical consequences of their actions according to the law.

The bill which was launched by the acting president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, addresses the issue of privacy in matters relating to the patients’ cases and which demands that health workers owe the patients a duty to sensitise them when others are involved particularly as all communications concerning them must be treated confidentially.

Furthermore, patients have the right to receive explanations on their charges regardless of who is paying; know what hospital rules and regulations apply to their conduct as patient, be informed about what to do in the event of an emergency and also the limit of freedom of choice they have especially in cases of such emergency care; obtain any information as to the relationship of the hospital to other health care and educational institutions; know if the hospital proposes to engage in or perform human experimentation affecting their treatment and withdraw their consent and terminate care at any point or get this done on their behalf by the recognized legal guardian or next of kin.

As in all situations, rights come with their attendant responsibilities. This bill, according to its initiators, expects patients to treat all hospital staff with respect and dignity; faithfully undergo the agreed treatment; follow the health workers’ instructions diligently; take necessary preventive measures in case of infectious disease according to doctor’s instructions; be aware that health workers will endeavour to always act in their best interests even as human beings they are also susceptible to occasional mistakes and lapses.

Similarly, patients ought to be aware that all procedures and treatment modalities carry varying levels of risk for which health workers are not liable; make payment for the treatment, wherever applicable, to the hospital promptly; respect the competence of the health workers to make professional decisions on patients’ care; be punctual at clinics/hospitals for treatment at any given time; preserve all the records of their illness and keep the hospital management informed if change of doctors/hospital is desirable and or desired.

In our opinion, the Council has, indeed, taken a bold step to address these issues that had hitherto posed a threat to efficient healthcare delivery process. What is required now, in our view, is for the council to deploy all media of communication to ensure that the citizens, who are the target of this audacious policy measure, are made fully aware of what they stand to benefit from it and what role they can play in order to make it work.

We are familiar with the challenges consumers face in other areas due, mostly, to a lack of adequate enlightenment on the existence of their rights in those areas. The council must also go ahead and design modalities that will ease the implementation of the bill in a manner that will be devoid of frustrating bureaucratic red tape.

This newspaper commends the Consumer Protection Council for initiating this bill and hopes that its implementation will justify the effort made to bring it about.