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More patients sleep on floor than beds at Mbale hospital

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Women sit in the corridors of the maternity ward at Mulago Hospital recently.

Women sit in the corridors of the maternity ward at Mulago Hospital recently. Overcrowding at Mbale Hospital, whose bed capacity is at 400 beds, has more patients sleeping on the floor than those on beds. 

By David Mafabi

Posted  Tuesday, June 18   2013 at  01:00

In Summary

Whereas the hospital was designated to serve only 11 districts, it now caters for patients in the entire eastern region.


Mbale Regional Referral Hospital is one of the 13 regional referral hospitals in Uganda. It is also designated as one of the three public clinical paramedical teaching hospitals in the country.

The hospital started in 1924 as a collection and treatment centre for World War 1 wounded returnees before it was turned into as a small health centre, handling mostly child health services.

Today the hospital, which was designated to serve only 11 districts in the sub region, now caters for patients as far Soroti and Karamoja areas. Although originally meant to handle only complicated referral cases that could not be handled by lower health centre IVs, IIIs, and IIs in Mbale sub-region, today the hospital handles even the most basic of cases.

Reports at the hospital indicate that it handles treatment of respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, cholera, dysentery, and diarrhoea. Other ailments the hospital handles include obstetrics, cancer, reproductive health services, deliveries, HIV/Aids counselling and guidance and minor and major operations.

According to Mr Louis Muhindo, the principal administrator, the hospital is grappling with an increased number of patients from about 14 districts that make up the catchment area of about 2,500,000 million people.

“This regional referral is also handling cough, cold, diarrhoea and any other infectious conditions which are supposed to be handled at health centre IIs, IIIs and IVs. This is what strains the hospital,” said Mr Muhindo. He said this has compromised the quality of services being offered.

Over stretched resources
Mr Muhindo explained that overtime, people have continued to accuse the hospital administrators and medical workers of providing inadequate services, yet the problem is beyond their jurisdiction. He claims that they have always tried their best to provide better services within the available, often over stretched resources.

The hospital has in recent months been on the spot for abuse of patients and maladministration. Mr Muhindo said although the hospital receives a non-recurrent wage bill of about Shs1.5 billion and development wage of about Shs1 billion for routine maintenance of the hospital and repair of vehicles and infrastructure, the increase in the number of patients makes the bill too little to run the hospital.
The hospital has a 400-bed capacity but that there are more patients sleeping on the floor than beds.

Mr Muhindo said although they have an X-ray unit which is supposed to be manned by three workers, there is only one. The ultra-sound scan department, Radiograph, and CT scan also lack manpower.

“National Medical Stores, which supplies medicines and reagents, at times supplies reagents below what is budgeted for and we have had no choice but to buy directly from the joint medical stores to supplement this shortfall,” said Mr Muhindo.

The hospital board chairperson, Dr Dominic Waburoko, said the hospital is challenged by the high number of patients who turn up at the facility. He said the problem is made worse by patients who make self-referrals. Dr Waburoko said that the attitude of workers is also a challenge as many of them think their salary is too low to work and so they spend most of the time at private clinics and in the gardens to earn a living.

Medical personnel-patient ratio
Dr Benon Wanume, the director of the hospital, says that although the World Health Organisation recommends a medical personnel-patient ratio of 1:4, at Mbale Hospital, the ratio is stands at almost 1:110.

“We have been put at 83 per cent medical staffing levels but this number does not cater for those who retire and those who die every year. We have more nurses [about 183] but few midwives (31). This is very low for a referral hospital,” said Dr Wanume.

Mr Wanume added: “Look at our floors, verandahs of wards they are all occupied with patients. At the paedeatric ward we have had to admit two to three children on one bed to enable them get the required services because we are overwhelmed but even then we work efficiently,”

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