Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu
By Patrick Ugeh
In a bid to make the National Hospital, Abuja, a world class facility to handle most of the medical conditions for which Nigerians go abroad for treatment, the federal government is mulling the possibility of privatising the nation’s foremost healthcare institution.
In addition, it is considering setting up six tertiary facilities.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, who disclosed these Tues in Abuja, said he would have preferred a situation where the country would attain universal health insurance coverage before privatising the National Hospital so that the cost of accessing healthcare would not be beyond the reach of Nigerians.
Highlighting his achievements in the last two years and short term goals ahead, Chukwu, however, expressed fears that there might be opposition to the privatisation of the National Hospital.
“It is one of the things we are thinking,” he said, after asking journalists at the interactive session if they liked the idea, which many concurred with, “but we are still consulting, like we are consulting you now.”
According to him, his fear was that groups such as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), would likely protest the decision, when taken, with the claim that it would deprive workers of their jobs.
“NLC would rise up and say we want to chase away their workers. It is like those who were protesting the privatisation of NITEL but they are now smiling carrying their handsets around,” Chukwu wise-cracked. “But we would consult.”
He continued: “Whoever is there, like some of you feel, it doesn’t matter whether it’s public or private, so long as it is working and you can afford it.”
Throwing in a note of caution though, the minister said: “If we make everything private, people cannot afford it; so, we need to be careful. I rather feel that we first get universal coverage, and then begin to privatise. By then, I am sure everybody can afford it. But then, this is my own personal opinion, not that of the ministry yet.”
Chukwu was reacting to a question concerning an Indian, who said he could provide the National Hospital with state-of-the-art equipment that would drastically reduce the need for Nigerians to be referred abroad for most of the ailments that could be managed locally with the proper equipping of the hospital if the government could allow his outfit run the place on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis.
The minister said some sections of some federal hospitals were already being operated on a PPP basis to be able to provide world-class services.
He listed some of them as the ultra-modern cardiac centre at University College Hospital, Ibadan, which he said, was the latest in the world, and some of the latest MRI and CT scan equipment at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH).
According to him, more of such centres were in the offing while President Goodluck Jonathan had directed that six such tertiary health facilities be set up across the country before 2015.
Chukwu said the country’s health facilities had developed to such a level that they could handle the president’s medical checkup openly in Nigeria, while he himself and his family had been receiving treatment within the country before becoming health minister.
He stated that it was unfair for Nigerians to blame any deficiency in any of the thousands of hospitals outside of the 56 owned by the Federal Ministry of Health on the president and the minister.
Noting that the federal government had been doing well in the health sector in the utilisation of its share of the money realised from the partial subsidy removal, he asked Nigerians to challenge their state and local governments to account for their shares of the money for the programme known at the federal level as SURE-P.
He also disclosed that the federal hospitals were now being equipped to the point where long bone fractures such as thigh bones could be treated and the patients discharged in five days instead of being admitted for long periods of time.