'No-bed’ syndrome: We need a law to stop this callous attitude!

Justice Mallet File photo

Sat, 16 Jun 2018 Source: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to trigger action to deal with a critical problem or situation. It appears that the tragic death earlier this month of Prince Anthony Opoku-Acheampon, a victim of the ‘no-bed syndrome’, may lead to decisive measures, even legislation.

On Tuesday, a day after the Daily Graphic and other media reported the tragic news, the Ghana Health Service (GHS) issued an emphatic directive to all government accredited hospitals and clinics. They are to stop turning away patients with the excuse that they have no bed, GHS Director-General, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, told the paper.

Even more gratifying, after the issue was discussed in Parliament, the Speaker, Professor Mike Oquaye, reportedly ruled that two committees, on Health and the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, should look into the possibility of initiating laws and regulations to deal with the ‘no-bed syndrome’.

I hope that the Speaker’s ruling leads to a law that makes the ‘no-bed’ excuse to deny medical assistance a criminal offence.

And I suggest that when Parliament enacts that law, it should be named after Mr Opoku-Acheampon, as is done elsewhere if somebody’s misfortune leads to legislation to correct an anomaly.

The agonising story of how 70-year-old Mr Opoku-Acheampon died in his car after his wife and son had tried to get him medical assistance in as many as seven hospitals in Accra has been widely reported in the news media.

Commenting on the matter, Minister of Health Kwaku Agyeman-Manu gave assurance that his Ministry will ensure that the ‘syndrome’ is stopped as soon as possible. “As health facility managers, it is our responsibility to find beds for emergency cases.”

Furthermore, the Graphic of June 13 reported, Mr Agyeman-Manu added that his Ministry is currently investigating an allegation that at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, patients needing admission have to pay for a bed.

Two weeks ago, the arresting headline on the front page of this newspaper, promoting the lead or principal news story for that issue, was ‘No bed syndrome’ at hospitals inimical to healthcare. It seems to have been a prophetic news item.

The behaviour highlighted in that issue of the Mirror on June 1, was tragically illustrated by what befell Mr Opoku-Acheampon the very next day.

“According to the health experts, the ‘no bed syndrome’ which has been going on for a while, is a public health safety hazard which needs urgent attention,” the Mirror story emphasized. The issue was a central discussion point at this year’s ‘Dr Nyaho Tamakloe Medical Symposium’ held in Accra.

The Ghana Health Service has set up a committee to investigate the scandal, the Daily Graphic reported on June 12. The GHS Director-General said: “We will get to the bottom of this issue and make sure this doesn’t happen again in this country of ours.”

Mr Opoku-Acheampon was taken ill in the night of June 2 at his Mallam residence. His wife, Esther, and their son quickly put him in the family’s car and set off at about midnight to look for a hospital.

They called first at the C & J Medicare Hospital at Adabraka, but after a brief assessment, a nurse there said they could not help.

Then they drove to: the Korle-Bu Polyclinic; the Ridge Hospital; the Police Hospital; the Trust (SSNIT) Hospital and the La General Hospital before arriving at the LEKMA Hospital at Teshie, at 3 a.m. All the health facilities said they had no bed.

At the seventh, the LEKMA Hospital, when the nurse on duty said they had no bed, Mrs Opoku-Acheampon told the Graphic: “I knelt down and begged her that I would pay any amount the hospital would charge. She drew my attention to the doctor on duty who was then relaxing in his car outside. I went to him and begged him” but the doctor refused to come and even take a look at her husband.

Just then her son came to alert her that his father had become unconscious. “When the doctor heard that, he came and checked his pulse. He later told (us) that he was dead. We had stood there for more than 30 minutes begging, but the doctor did nothing. This is how cruel and heartless some doctors and nurses are,” she said in tears.

In an emergency, why can’t a patient be treated even on a trolley in a corridor to save a precious life? We read that this is done at times even in the western world, in the UK. Why not in Ghana?

One irony of this pathetic story is that Mr Acheampon was not unknown to the C & J facility. His company, Printhony Printing Press, is reportedly the supplier of stationery for that hospital, the Graphic reported. Another irony is that Mrs Acheampon said one of their children is a doctor in the United Kingdom.

However, another critical health emergency oddity is the highly unrealistic requirement that even in an accident emergency, a cash deposit has to be paid on behalf of a patient before treatment can commence.

What kind of insensitivity and illogical stipulation is this? How and why should somebody in need of medical care in an emergency be asked to pay before treatment?

From my viewpoint, even from the comments made by the GHS Director-General, not to mention the Mirror news-feature, it is evident that the ‘no-bed’ syndrome’ is a situation that has persisted for some time and is well known to the authorities. Why is it that it has taken this terrible, preventable loss of life to generate action against it?

And why on earth is it that in a country with even a National Health Insurance Scheme an accident victim is expected to pay a deposit before treatment can commence?

Hopefully, the GHS investigation as well as the Parliamentary actions will lead to dramatic measures, notably a law making it mandatory to treat those in need of medical help in an emergency. Appropriately, it should be called the Opoku-Acheampon Law.

And there should be no requirement of the payment of a deposit before treatment.

It’s an extremely scary thought that any one of us could become a victim of the callous syndrome, or of the trauma of the requirement to pay before an emergency health treatment.

Columnist: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari