State House team goes to Mbale hospital after Monitor’s exposé

The main gate of Mbale Regional Referral Hospital. A cartel involving guards, clinicians, doctors, and others often refer patients to nearby private facilities. PHOTO/YAHUDU KITUNZI

What you need to know:

  • Three guards have been arrested in connection with extortion while two doctors are on the run.

The State House Health Monitoring officials have camped in Mbale City to investigate, among others, allegations of extortion of money from patients at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital.

This comes after Daily Monitor and NTV Uganda, subsidiaries of Nation Media Group, last week exposed how extortion rings have risked patients’ lives at the hospital.

The two-week investigation unearthed a cartel involving some doctors, nurses, clinicians, and administrative support staff at the blood bank, guards, and other attendants that work together with private clinics near the hospital.

Following the story, the hospital and security team have introduced tough measures at the facility. There is also heavy security deployment.

Dr Ayella Ataro, the assistant director of the State House Health Monitoring Unit, wondered why health officers send patients to private laboratories yet the facility has a good one. 

“We have come as a team to inspect the hospital and meet with the people in regards to complaints that were raised and also media coverage that came out recently,” Dr Ataro said last week.

“We held a meeting with senior hospital staff and followed through with the concerns. Many are pertinent issues that we observed while touring the hospital,” he added.

The State House officials found the medical store with drugs yet the doctors refer patients to buy drugs from pharmacies.  The officials also discovered that the scan and X-ray room had been closed for some time.

According to Dr Ataro, some oxygen cylinders  are rusty because they are exposed to the sun and rain, a sign of poor administration.

“I asked the officer-in-charge of the hospital medical store, Mr Martin Kizito, to explain why the oxygen cylinders are outside but he had no answer,” he said.

Dr Ataro also said staff attendance is poor because they work in multiple facilities.

During the meeting at the facility on Friday, three guards and a hawker were arrested on accusations of sneaking away patients from the hospital and two doctors are on the run.  Police told Monitor that the suspects are detained at Mbale City Police Station pending investigations.  

Mr Collins Karugaba, who  heads  investigations at State House health monitoring team, confirmed the arrest. 

“They will be arraigned before the court. Whoever is [found guilty] will be dealt with,” Mr Karugaba said.
The Resident City Commissioner, Mr Ahamada Washaki, said  malpractices  have been ongoing in the hospital for a long time.

“We  have been making a lot of interventions, including detecting drug theft and extortion in this hospital, ”Mr Washaki said. 

He said medics at the regional hospital have been referring patients to private quack health facilities for monetary gain.

“For instance, a woman identified as Florence Manashe was sneaked from the facility to a clinic. She died in the theatre after reportedly being operated on by a quack doctor,” he said.

He also said they found the hospital compound littered and the staff quarters structures dilapidated.
“Some structures were not renovated, which poses danger to the staff. We also acknowledged that there are some people renting inside the hospital premises when they are not hospital staff and this vice must stop,” Mr Washaki said.  

The hospital administrator, Mr Bruno Ojono, said they recommended many interventions.
Mr Steven Masiga, the coordinator of Makerere University Mbale branch, commended Daily Monitor and NTV for bringing the plight of the patients to the attention of the authorities.

“It is, however, unfortunate that local governments who are immediate supervisers are also sleeping on their jobs,” Mr Masiga said.

The British colonial administration established Mbale Hospital 98 years ago. The 415-bed facility serves more than 15 districts in eastern region, including Busia,Tororo, Budaka, Kibuku, Kapchorwa, Bukwo, Kween, Butaleja, Namisindwa, Manafwa, Mbale, Pallisa, Bukedea, Namutumba, Sironko, and Butebo.

The hospital boasts of structures in fairly good condition but is short on equipment and specialised personnel, and yet according to the Health ministry, the facility is one of the most staffed hospitals among the 16 regional referrals in the country.

Measures taken

Mr Ahamada Washaki, who heads the city security committee, said they have put measures, including reprimanding the suspects arrested over extorting or sneaking away the patients.  

“We are reactivating the regulations of entering the facility. We directed the hospital management to put the time of visiting. No private vehicle should be allowed inside the facility,” he said. Mr Washaki asked caretakers of patients to report any health workers asking for bribes on his phone numbers 0772424109 or 0701424109.

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