As poor electricity supply persists in the country, with the increasing cost of diesel and fuel, healthcare service is becoming way beyond the reach of the common man as patients bear the brunt of the cost.
Many health facilities, especially secondary and tertiary hospitals, need constant electricity either for medical laboratory investigations, storage of drugs, samples and other healthcare services.
However, leadership checks revealed that these hospitals are grappling with epileptic electricity supply, fuel scarcity and high cost of diesel as many private hospitals now spend as much as N20 million on diesel monthly while some tertiary hospitals spend up to N60 million.
The patients, many of whom are already impoverished, are indirectly bearing the burden as the cost of healthcare has also increased.
The chief medical director of the National Hospital Abuja, Dr, Jaf Momoh, told LEADERSHIP that the hospital was spending about N30 million on electricity monthly before now, but that presently it was spending about double of that.
He said, “Because we provide 24-hour electricity, and we have a lot of air conditioning, a lot of heavy duty equipment, cancer and radiology equipment that require air conditioning, the consumption of electricity is high at a 500-bed hospital, so that has increased the cost of operations.
“To run a 500-bed hospital and daily non-stop without electricity, even on the national grid, if they give us 24-hour supply, we will spend above N30 million monthly; that was before now. Now with the cost of diesel, it is more than double of that.”
Also, the chairman, Guild of Medical Directors (GMD), FCT Chapter, Dr Wisdom Ihejieto, said the astronomical increase in the cost of diesel had in no small way led to the exceedingly increased cost of running hospitals, thus making operators of such facilities spend three-to-four times what was considered normal few weeks ago.
Ihejieto, who is also the managing director, Arewa Clinics and Maternity, Abuja, told LEADERSHIP that a facility that spends in the range of N200, 000 per month had found themselves spending in the minimum of N800, 000 because of this increase.
He said, “Also considering the poor or non-availability of public power supply from the distribution companies, it becomes almost necessary to constantly use your diesel and PMS engines for 24 hours in order to keep such sensitive instruments, medicaments and consumables viable.”
This, the physician said, will essentially lead to high cost of medical treatment to the ordinary patients, thus negatively affecting the prospects of achieving the Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
He said this will also impact negatively on the implementation of the newly signed National Health Insurance Authority Act.
He, therefore, urged the government at all levels to consider the scarcity of diesel a top priority and do everything humanly possible to stop what he described as a cancerous trend, especially in a priority sector like the healthcare delivery subsector.
“Most businesses, especially in the healthcare delivery space, are closing down or reducing essential hours of operation to almost half,” he lamented.
The president, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN), Prof. James Damen, expressed worry that poor electricity supply may further affect the already weak healthcare system in the country, saying electricity is crucial to robust medical laboratories.
According to him, it is difficult to conduct any meaningful laboratory investigation without electricity.
“We do a lot of research and our samples are usually stored in the refrigerator of minus 80 (-80). When there is no electricity, it is a major setback,” he said.
However, the director of operations, Alliance Hospital, Sunday Ojekhekpen, said despite the fact that the cost of running the hospital had skyrocketed, they were not at liberty to increase their prices.
He said, “The problem is that we do not have the liberty to influence prices. What we did cesarean section for in 2018 is what we are still doing today, irrespective of the fact that the things you need to do it have all skyrocketed.”
Ojekhekpen said they could run the hospital for an average of about N4 million on diesel then, but now they spend about N20 million on diesel monthly.
“We could run the hospital for an average of about 4million then, it started going up. I approved diesel today, a 1000-litre container for N820/ litres, that means pump price for diesel today is N820/litre and this takes the hospital two and a half days, best case scenario, three days.
“We find ourselves in a situation whereby we do an average of N20 million on diesel monthly. This has increased the cost of maintenance of the generators as well.
“Where we are is that the healthcare industry is gradually being muzzled. Some are beginning to lose life, there are few hospitals here in Abuja that I know that are putting up their properties for sale because they have closed.
“It is a survival of the fittest as it is now. We are struggling to survive; we are struggling to meet our financial obligations,;it is a big problem as far as healthcare is concerned and the government just needs to intervene, to do whatever they need to do to improve power supply,” he said.
On the new Health Insurance Act, he said the Act will not solve any problem but will only make people accessible to healthcare.