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Opinions Thu, 18 Feb 2016

Consumables consume the sick at Korle Bu

The authorities at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital have asked that non-emergency cases should be referred to other hospitals in Accra. This is not helpful. Am I the patient, to decide whether my situation is non-emergency?

We have many trained spokesmen or information officers in our institutions. They should be made to do their work and give us adequate and understandable accounts of why, how and what. The situation at Korle Bu is said to have arisen because “Most of the consumables supplied by some of the contractors to the hospital had expired”. I do not understand this. What are “consumables”? My little English tells me that things to be consumed are normally eaten or used and cannot be eaten or used again. Therefore “consumables” should be constantly replaced.

However, if contractors supply consumables which have “expired” as is claimed then those responsible for the purchase should be punished in accordance with the rules. The public should be properly informed and many would then act responsibly and assist authority.

Bad administration and refusal to keep to rules and procedures should not be allowed to destroy the health system. The minister is reported to have gone to Korle Bu to assess the situation. This is good. But maintenance and the replacement of old equipment and the installation of new ones should be anticipated and should not bring the entire hospital service to a standstill.

The minister was moved by a student’s death caused by the present situation. I hope this makes him ruthless in the enforcement of age-old administrative procedures which enable hospitals even far away from Accra to work.

Drugs and even some equipment have expiry dates. Replacement orders should, therefore, be arranged in time. If funds are not available, authority should face the situation and make appropriate arrangements. This is not the time to debate the running and funding of our hospitals as has been suggested.

Ghana does not generate enough revenue to fund and maintain the full health facilities which the people need or ask for. We must, therefore, decide on priorities. We must plan and improve the health service as we improve the collection of taxes and the like and deal ruthlessly with the corrupt and thieves.

When I was Secretary of Education, which with the Ministry of Health was responsible for Korle Bu, I had to chair a meeting which agreed on a lower priority for dialysis at Korle Bu! It was a painful decision partly because a close friend of mine was dying of defective kidney function. We still have to make difficult choices even now.

Health equipment and facilities are improving in the world daily and we must create enough resources to acquire the equipment and services we need to avoid premature and unnecessary deaths. We cannot do this if the Head of State and leading public officers do not care about adequate and modern services because they are treated at public expense outside Ghana when sick. That was why I fought for appropriate provision to be placed in the manifesto of the SDF Party which I founded. Unfortunately, I was defeated and I believe quite a few “VIPS” are still treated at government’s expense outside Ghana.

We do not have the resources to provide all the health services which should be the birthright of every Ghanaian. We should, therefore, give priority to the avoidance and treatment of communicable and similar diseases which unnecessarily plague us, while we deal ruthlessly according to law, with those who foul the surroundings and thereby create health hazards.

Apart from more resources, we can greatly improve the health delivery system if we maintain procedures diligently. A friend came across an accident and took the badly injured to the nearest major hospital. He was told to take the traumatised patient to a clinic from where the injured would be referred to the main hospital! I was horrified. But soon my mind was jolted by a sad incident some years ago when a veterinary surgeon died because of what I believed was negligence at our premier health institution at the Military Hospital. The young man had been brutally stabbed by assailants when neighbours took him to the military hospital

He did not receive “emergency” treatment. He was moved from place to place and he died.

Some of us, including a distinguished military man, Wing Commander Sogbordjor were greatly disturbed and insisted on finding out what happened. We were met with evasions and untruths. I thought things would improve and had improved until January 17 this year when a particularly severe eye pain took me to the Emergency and Trauma Unit of the Military hospital at midnight. To my surprise I was asked to go to the clinic. I protested vehemently. I was so annoyed that the pain subsided! Eventually, I went to the clinic and after the young doctor had finished with a patient, he attended to me. He was good. He wanted to put some drops into the eye. But I refused and elected to see the specialist on Monday morning. He said he would send the folder to the eye clinic.

Monday morning came. I was at the hospital. The folder could not be found! The Col. in charge however attended to me. He was professional, courteous, sympathetic. His medication and advice have kept me among the healthy!

I am not surprised at the professional competence of our doctors. At school and when teaching those who opted for medicine were among the best. Korle Bu turned out excellent doctors at its inception. They were snatched by hospitals in Europe. Why then should we have the present mess at Korle Bu? I am afraid it is due to bad administration and funding for which our political leaders should take most of the blame. But our doctors should also do their duty even when it is not so pleasant. They should blow the whistle before “consumables” get exhausted. Those in responsible positions at Korle Bu are as much to blame for the present mess as the “politicians” and officials who disburse funds for maintenance and equipment.

Columnist: KB Asante