Sources told The Zimbabwean that both local and expatriate doctors were involved in the scam – placing patients on a waiting list for lengthy periods and then advising them to go to the surgeries if they wanted speedy attention.
Patients and hospital sources this week cited Mpilo Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospital as among the referral health centres where the practice is rife. Specialised surgeries such as urology, orthopaedics, open-heart surgery, and ear, nose and throat problems are key areas as these operations are mainly performed by specialised consultants, mainly from Nigeria and Egypt.
The country is highly dependent on expatriate medical staff as a result of the debilitating brain drain experienced over the past 20 years as a result of political instability and consequent economic collapse.
“When a patient visits the hospital seeking surgery, he or she is told to come back after periods of as long as six months,” said a source at Milo hospital who cannot be named for fear of victimisation.
This puts the patients under pressure, resulting in them opting for the private surgery. while the operations cost around $300 at the government hospitals, the fees rise to as high as $10,000 at the private surgeries.
“Last year my late father had a urinary problem and I took him to Mpilo. The doctor openly told me that if I wanted my father to be attended to as matter of urgency, I should come to his surgery in town,” said a source. Despite diverting patients to their surgeries, the doctors are allegedly using hospital resources.
“What surprised and shocked me is that after completing the necessary medical examinations and paying at his private surgery, the operation was carried out at the hospital theatre using government equipment,” added the source.
Medical sources at UBH confirmed the scam. “It’s not a secret that both local and consulting doctors at UBH use government equipment as well as state-employed nurses to operate on their own private patients. Management has tried on numerous occasions to stop the practice but they have realised that once they do that, the doctors will leave because their salaries are far less than what their counterparts in the region are earning,” said one employee. Government doctors in Zimbabwe earn as little as $800 per month.
Lawrence Mantiziba, the CEO of Mpilo, said the hospital would investigate the matter, The Minister of Health and Child Care, David Parirenyatwa, also promised remedial action. “This is a bad practice which should never happen. Please give me specific cases and the ministry will definitely take remedial action,” he said in a telephone interview.
He admitted that government had authorised the expatriate doctors to operate private surgeries, but stressed that they should put their business at government hospitals first.
Patients who cannot afford the fees at the local surgeries are being forced to travel to distant health centres to get timely attention. Some urology patients told this reporter they were travelling as far as Mvurwi in Mashonaland Central province where the fees range between $700 and $1,200, while others were crossing to South Africa.
The patients urged the government to revert back to the old system where foreign consultant doctors seconded to government hospitals were not allowed to operate private surgeries.
Staff at government hospitals have in the past been accused of stealing essential drugs such as antiretrovirals and selling them on the black market, while local doctors have been accused of putting patients’ lives at risk by prioritising their own surgeries.Post published in: News