THE Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, Benue State, is currently struggling to retain its consultants and other employees.
The ICIR reports that despite acquiring a new set of multi-million-naira equipment through the COVID-19 fund to improve services in some of its departments, many of the hospital’s workers are dumping the facility for hospitals in Europe, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and others for higher wages.
Apart from the consultants, other cadres of workers, comprising junior doctors, nurses, medical laboratory scientists, and radiologists, are leaving the hospital.
Consultants are expert health professionals who support hospitals’ operational efficiency. They help in policy formulation, implementation, training of less-experienced staff and general administration of health facilities.
Conducting certain procedures and using some equipment largely depend on their expertise.
Our reporter gathered that 12 consultants resigned from the hospital in the last two years, and four others will leave in March.
In addition, dozens of health workers have left the hospital in the past years.
Findings from the hospital showed that the workers are leaving because of poor welfare and the government’s refusal to increase their service years.
This newspaper reported in August 2021 how hundreds of doctors thronged a popular hotel in Abuja when the Saudi-Arabia-based recruiter needed only seven.
Similarly, in October that year, The ICIR reported how the nation lost nearly 9,000 doctors and other health workers to the UK and other nations in two years.
Background to the report
In response to COVID-19 and the state of low preparedness in Nigeria in 2020, corporate organisations and individuals donated billions of Naira to purchase equipment and revamp the nation’s health sector.
Nigeria recorded its first case of the disease on February 27, and went on to lock down some states on March 30, as infections from the virus ballooned nationwide.
Among other measures, President Muhammadu Buhari constituted the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and approved emergency procurements of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical measures to combat the pandemic.
The bulk of the country’s spending on the disease was from the Nigeria Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) Relief Fund – the funds donated by corporate organisations and individuals.
As of June 2020, 181 corporate organisations and individuals had contributed N30.2 billion to the fund.
At the end of the year, the government had spent N38.59 billion from it, part of which was N653 million approved for Makurdi FMC to procure molecular laboratory equipment for the hospital at N313.3 million.
DCL Laboratory Products LTD got the contract.
Another contract for equipping the isolation ward at the hospital cost N65.7 million. Blue Matrix Limited got the contract.
Similarly, the government awarded the contract for equipping a 10-bedded hospital unit at N170.5 million to JNC International LTD.
The contracts do not include others, such as the procurement of consumables used during the peak of the disease.
Our reporter was at the facility between Monday and Wednesday to verify the purchase of the devices. The reporter saw that the hospital got most of the equipment, but workers complained that a few employees put them to use.
The hospital’s management showed the receipts for the procurements, but it failed to provide a photocopy of the documents for probing possible price inflation.
Confessions of a senior official at the hospital
“The people we had in 2021 are no more on the ground. We have the equipment, but we don’t have people to man them,” a senior official at the hospital, who did not want to be named because the management could punish him, told The ICIR.
“The consultants are leaving the hospital, and there is nothing anybody can do whenever they withdraw their services,” the official said.
According to the official, the nation’s health sector “has never had it this bad” regarding brain drain.
The official said unlike before when recruiters made foreign job seekers converge at a venue for screening, they had resorted to conducting interviews on zoom and other platforms. “Government is not even in tune with reality in the sector. The consultants that are leaving are the policymakers. They are the policy implementers. They are the administrators. They are the ones who do the training.
“As we speak, in the space of two years, 12 consultants have left this place, highly specialised people in various specialities. We had 96, 12 left, and another four will go in March. Unfortunately, you cannot employ for replacement, and we can no longer render some services.
“If you go to the ICU, it is beautiful with equipment, but our most senior anaesthetist that was there left last November.”
The official noted that the exit of the consultants had drastically reduced the services rendered by the hospital.
Another senior officer at the hospital, Anike Uchenna, told our reporter that the rate at which workers leave the hospital was pathetic.
Uchenna, a doctor, is the hospital’s Molecular Laboratory manager.
“It is pathetic that people are leaving the system. Some people who worked in this unit have left; one left in January. It is disheartening when you have the equipment and don’t have the human resources to run them. One of the challenges we have right now is that we don’t have a sufficient workforce.”
Uchenna, who has worked at the hospital for seven years, said his department started with ten people but now left with three.
Unlike the Intensive Care Unit and Isolation Ward that did not get all the equipment that the government approved fund, Uchena’s department, Research Molecular Laboratory, got all its devices.
Medical director confirms consultants mass exodus from hospital
The hospital’s medical director Peteru Inunduh confirmed that employees were leaving the facility.
“They are leaving for Saudi Arabia and Europe. It is very worrisome. However, our human capacity building efforts are yielding results as we are expecting our consultants in anaesthesia, radiology, internal medicine to resume this year.
“We are also going to pursue waivers from the office of Head of Service to replace exited staff.”
According to him, brain drain sweeps across many tertiary hospitals, cutting across all health professionals.
He expressed optimism that the federal government would develop policy to address the short and long term effects and proffer a permanent solution to brain drain in the country.
2022 proposed budget for the hospital
In the 2022 proposed budget, the government earmarked N8 billion (8,084,292,104) for the hospital, that is N6.91 billion (6,915,285,940) for personnel, N165 million (165,081,103) for overhead, and N1 billion (1,003,925,061) for capital expenditures.
The ICIR reports that the government plans to use 87.58 per cent of the proposed budget for the hospital to pay workers’ salaries and manage different departments of the hospital.
Additional findings at the hospital’s two sites
The FMC Makurdi operates from its old and new sites, but it offers more services and enjoys more patronage at its old site, located within the Makurdi township.
Many of the buildings at the old site are in poor shape.
Workers said they preferred to work at the old facility because the new site is very far from town.
Motorcycles are the state’s means of public transportation.
Operators charge N400 to and from both facilities.
Works are still ongoing at the permanent site, which has vast land.
Our reporter observed that there is no more space for the building of any structure at the old site. Workers struggle to get space to park their vehicles.
The hospital’s morgue is within the old facility. The mortuary is located around the hospital’s store, and it emits a foul odour.
The medical director said the management would move the morgue to the permanent site this year.