Minister confirms engagement of retired health workers to address brain drain

Doctors ready to migrate

. To establish biomedical engineering programme to address medical equipment deficit

The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Ali Pate, says the federal government has made provisions for retired medical providers in non-administrative positions to be re-engaged on a contractual basis.

While fielding questions from journalists after visiting the National Hospital Abuja (NHA) on Saturday, Mr Pate said this is to close the human resource gap in the health sector due to brain drain.

“The recent circular essentially provided for medical providers who are in non-administrative positions, that is, those who are in clinical positions, to be re-engaged in a contract basis on the same terms as they were so that we do not lose the few that are remaining,” he said.

The minister said the National Hospital Abuja had about 15 anaesthesiologists over the last several years but had six remaining.

Mr Pate said thousands of health workers all over Nigeria work very hard, sometimes under challenging circumstances and need support.

“What we have seen is that in many facilities, health workers are leaving, some leave to go abroad, some moving from one facility to the other because of issues of either work overload or some other circumstances.

“Now, the replacement of those health workers can be expedited, and we will work with other parts of government to ensure that when clinical providers leave their post, the leadership of our hospitals are able to replace them with similarly qualified health providers,” he said.

The minister said the government would do everything possible to retain medical practitioners willing to return to service.

However, Mr Pate said that replacing personnel who had gone is challenging, given that some institutions had misused those opportunities in the past.

“So, when they get the waivers to replace or waivers to employ, because of pressure, they employ non-health professionals and leave the clinical professionals, the nurses, pharmacists, doctors, technicians out of the loop.

“Then, because of pressure, they hire others because of the employment situation in the country. So, it’s a delicate issue, but we are working towards solving that,” Mr Pate added.

A circular dated August 30 from the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) with reference number HCSF/SPSO/ODD/CND/100/S.1/145, was addressed to the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health.

The circular was titled: Re: Review of Retirement Age to 65 and 70 years for Health Professionals and Medical/Dental Consultants.

The circular was signed by Olufemi Oloruntoba, the permanent secretary of the Service Policies and Strategies Office, on behalf of the HCSF. It proposed the rejection of the increase in retirement age for medical and dental consultants and other health professionals.

It also cited several reasons for the rejection, which include that healthcare professionals are leaving the country because of financial considerations and unfavourable working conditions not due to their retirement age.

Medical equipment

Meanwhile, Pate revealed that the Federal Government plans to establish a National Biomedical Engineering programme that will address the deficit in medical equipment maintenance.

The Minister said that he recognises that some of the infrastructure in the hospital are more than 20 years old and challenged because of the volume of use, time and nature taking its course.

“Overtime things just get aged, you have many equipment that have been here for many years and are not functional, very important equipment.

“Some are for cancer care; they are old and need replacement, some for radiology that are old, and some are not functional or just outdated.

That’s a very clear issue and we need to find a way to solve that in a significant way,” he said.

He, however, said that the issue of equipment and maintenance is not peculiar to NHA alone, as similar situations are prevalent in other tertiary hospitals he had visited.

“So, we will in the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare establish a National Biomedical Engineering programme that will try to begin to address the deficit in equipment maintenance,” he said.

On the issue of power supply to the hospital, he said that his Ministry would work with the Ministry of Power as well as the power holding companies to see what arrangements could be made to prioritise health facilities even if not entirely, but some parts of it.

According to him, efforts are on to assess the needs of all teaching hospitals so that they have solarisation as part of the solution due to the high cost of diesel.

He also commended the hospital’s management for ensuring that emergency patients are attended to regardless of payment for the first 24 hours.

“I am very glad to hear that you prioritise saving lives so that when somebody comes to the emergency, they get treated, regardless of anything for the first 24 hours.

“That is a very important principle to keep in mind so that we ensure that we put our patients and our people first in all that we do,” he said.

He assured that he would support the hospital in all its endeavours and also challenge it to deliver on its mandate.

The minister said that the ministry is very focused on improving the health and well-being of Nigerians and that the hospitals are a major part of this.

“You (CMD) as a leader of the hospital, along with other leaders in our national hospitals will need to step up your games in terms of responding to patients’ presence, ensuring facilities are functional, the quality of services is tracked, that the patients’ experience the government in a very positive way,” he said.

Speaking about the reason for the visit to the hospital, he said that it was part of his assessment of national federal hospitals all over the country.

“We have been to several of them and today we are here at the National Hospital in Abuja because we want to reposition hospitals to provide quality services to all Nigerians with patients at the centre of what we do.

“Also, to assess the leadership of the hospital and its management to let them know that Nigerians deserve the highest quality services possible within the resources available,” he said.

The recent circular essentially provided for medical providers who are in non-administrative positions, that is, those who are in clinical positions, to be re-engaged on a contract basis on the same terms as they were so that we do not lose the few that are remaining.

Pressure on infrastructure

Earlier, the Chief Medical Director (CMD), Prof. Muhammad Mahmud, said that the hospital was created to be a quaternary hospital initially for children and then for women and children, but was eventually expanded to involve every facet of medicine and surgery.

He said that this had brought strain on the facilities and infrastructure of the hospital established about 24 years ago.

According to him, though the hospital was given attention and had funding, these dwindled over the years which have contributed to its present-day decadence.

“Sir, I would want to assure you that everyone is willing to put in their best, especially if we have what will improve our outcomes.

“You have gone by yourself to see equipment and though we know we have issues with maintenance in the whole country, biomedical technology or medical maintenance departments are not as good but still these equipment and infrastructure have actually outlived their useful times.

“Unless the government pays attention and is able to fund the hospital to really get it to the level it should be then we will keep struggling,” he said.

Mahmud said that the hospital’s management had over the years tried its best to keep the hospital afloat and take it higher, but many constraints had hindered its progress.

He, however, said that with the minister’s visit and the promises made by him, the hospital would be able to get to the level it should be as a prestigious tertiary hospital.

“Our aim actually is not just to target Nigerians alone, but to even get clients from West African countries.

“So, once we get ourselves to that level, without even advertising, we will get there. Nigeria has the resources and the manpower if we are able to harness it well.

“The issues of funding may also be there, inasmuch as we are able to think out of the box and are able to attract those fund funding opportunities and with the expertise and the knowledge, we will get there.” (NAN) 

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