Health activists push for law on patients’ rights

Sunday April 18 2021
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A health worker attends to a patient on a dialysis machine in a Ugandan hospital in 2015. The new law amongst other things aims at ending detention of patients who fail to meet hospital bills. PHOTO/FILE/RACHEL MABALA

By Elizabeth Kamurungi

Health activists under their umbrella, Uganda National Health Consumers’ Organisation, (UNHCO) have renewed the push to have the Patients’ Rights and Responsibilities Bill passed into law. 

The activists now want the Ministry of Health to join them and expedite the process that has been ongoing since 2015 when a private member was granted leave to draft the Bill.

The Bill that is currently before the Parliament’s Health Committee was in 2019  introduced by Busiki County MP Paul Akamba. 

The new law seeks to end detention of patients who fail to meet hospital bills, establishes a complaint and appeal mechanism,  the right to informed consent,  confidentiality and privacy and a right to medical information including a copy of the patient’s medical records.

Ms Mable Musinguzi, the head of advocacy at UNHCO,  said the disruptions  the health sector  has suffered following the outbreak of Covid-19 have shown the need for the Bill. 

Ms Musinguzi said many incidents where patients failed to access care during lockdown would have been avoided. 

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“Covid-19 is still here  and we need to prepare and ensure these unfortunate occurrences are not repeated. We must ensure continuity of services as much as effort have been shifted to tackle the pandemic,” she said. 

She added: “All the attention was put on Covid-19 and that is why UNHCO and Uganda Healthcare Federation have come up to push for  this Bill. It is important even as we are going into health insurance.”

Ms Musinguzi was responding to testimonies of some people who failed to access care due to alleged negligence in health facilities. 

A teary 39-year-old Hawa Namuyanja, a resident of Kamwokya said she lost her pregnancy in October, when she was denied care at a government facility. 

Ms Namuyanja claimed that the first persons she contacted  at the facility asked  her for an unspecified amount of money that she could not raise. 

She had sought treatment after heavy bleeding but lost her pregnancy three days later. 
Activists stressed that until health workers understand the consequences of such actions that endanger life, patients continue to suffer. 

Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Ministry of Health spokesperson, said there are already mechanisms where aggrieved patients can file complaints.

“We have organisations like the Allied Health Professional Council, Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council and Midwives and nurses Council. If a health worker is accused of negligence, they can be reported. As consumers, we need to be aware of our rights to avert some of those incidences,” Mr Ainebyoona said. 

Currently, patients’ rights are provided for under the Patients Charter of 2009. Mr Ainebyoona said this guarantees patients’ rights as the bill progresses. 

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com 

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