Inside FCT hospitals where patients wait long hours to see doctors

To ascertain the time an average patient spends before seeing a doctor, Lukman ABOLADE visited hospitals in the Federal Capital Territory, and brings this report.

WITH arms crossed on his laps and head bowed in a sleeping position, Baba Garba sat on a metal chair waiting to see a doctor at Wuse District Hospital Abuja. He arrived the hospital at 8:34 am, hoping to see a doctor pretty early, but that was not happening. There are over 50 other patients waiting to see doctors that morning. Garba mumbled complaints about the delay as he changed sitting position from time to time. It was obvious he was in pain. Over three hours later, he was invited into the consulting room.

Several others spent longer hours to see the doctor.


Baba Garba waiting to see the doctor at Wuse        District Hospital

Medical attention through the eyes of FCT patients

At the corridor of Wuse District Hospital on a Friday in December, there are several patients waiting to see doctors: mothers carrying their infants, fathers holding their children, aged men and women seeking medical attention.

Elizabeth Ishaya and other patients waiting to see the doctor in Wuse District Hospital

Sitting about six chairs away from Garba was Elizabeth Ishaya with her 11 months old infant. According to her, she had gotten to the hospital around 9:00 am and was told to obtain the hospital card.

Wuse District Hospital, Abuja

But it took her almost an hour to obtain the hospital card.

“After all the troubles of getting a card, I still have to wait so that the nurse can check him before we can see the doctor,” she said.

Yet, Ishaya  had to resume work by 10 am where she works as a shopkeeper but she could not see the doctor until noon.

“I told my madam I would resume work by 10 am that I want to take my baby to the hospital and she agreed but insisted that I must not stay long because we have a competitor beside our shop,” she said.

To experience what patients go through at Wuse hospital, The ICIR reporter registered as a patient. Every patient is made to pay N800 before seeing a doctor:  N500 for card, N300 for service charge.

At the point of payment, there was only one man attending to all payments in the General Outpatient Department (GOPD)  of the hospital, either for new patients or otherwise.

Also at the registration desk, a young lady attended to all new patients, her job requires imputing the demographic details in the computer set before her. This procedure lasted several minutes and patients had to wait it out.

Despite the delay in the registration process, vital signs of patients had to be checked before they were assigned a doctor for consultation. And this also took time longer than necessary

In a small room was a fair-looking bespectacled female nurse in her mid-50s, struggling to make good use of the computer in front of her, as she checked the vital signs of all patients and assigned them to a doctor for consultation.

The Nurse assigning all patients to a doctor

She was the only one responsible for assigning all patients to the doctor all through the day.

After spending over three hours at Wuse District Hospital, the reporter headed for t the National Hospital, Abuja, where the situation is not very different. 

The ICIR reporter arrived at the National Hospital at exactly 12: 15 pm.

At the GOPD, the reporter was directed to get a registration card. But 45 minutes after arrival, there was no one to register new patient as the lady in charge was said to have ‘stepped out’.

A staff of the hospital directed The ICIR reporter to a particular office, and there was the lady.

The young lady apologised for not being in the other office. According to her, she runs both offices.

“Sir, you can’t see a doctor now, you have to wait till 4:00 pm when the doctor for the next shift arrives,” she told The ICIR reporter.

She explained that all the doctors are in a meeting and won’t be able to attend to any patient until 4:00 pm.

On the wall of the National Hospital was a tag that read that morning shift ends by 2 pm but the hospital management had to fix a meeting for 12 pm ―during work hours, despite two hours break between the

A tag indicating clinic hours at the National Hospital, Abuja

two shifts.

A report by the United States Institute of Medicine stressed the importance of patient waiting time as a major determinant of proper health care delivery and patient satisfaction.

Some sick people avoid using the hospital because of the fear of having to wait for too long to consult a doctor thereby resulting in self-medication that often poses more harm to the patients.

In clear contrast to other hospitals, the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) in Jabi was different from others as it took The ICIR reporter less than 40 minutes to register and see a doctor though there were many patients. They did not have to sit, waiting idly to be called to see a doctor.

But FMC did not charge the usual N700/N800 naira fee like the previous hospitals, patients paid N1500 naira for

Receipt for registration at the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi

registration, a  double of what was paid in other hospitals despite being a public health centre. FMC is run both as a private and public hospital. The reporter opted for the public section of the hospital often patronised by the low-income patients.

The reporter asked whether the hospital has a functional telephone number that can be called to book an appointment with a doctor.

One of the doctors in the hospital confirmed there is none except the private wing of the hospital. He, however, promised to convey the suggestion to the management of FMC in their next meeting.


Doctor attending to The ICIR reporter at the Federal Medical Centre

The ICIR reporter also visited the Bwari General Hospital in Abuja on a Tuesday. There were only five patients or thereabout , and it didn’t take long to meet with the doctor.

Like FMC, Bwari General Hospital, Wuse District Hospital, National Hospital also does not have a functional telephone number made available to the public.

An attempt to speak with the Head of Public Affairs in Wuse District Hospital was unsuccessful.

She declined request to speak because“she was tied up with work”, however, one of the officers in charge of the SERVICOM unit who spoke under anonymity lamented the poor state of administration in the hospital.

Speaking to The ICIR, she blamed the lack of enough staffs and inadequate equipment as the major issue confronting the health centre.

“Even as we work under SERVICOM, when there are not enough nurses on ground, we are forced to join them in the ward”, she revealed.

She explained that even the doctors of the hospitals are sometimes compelled to work 24 hours without extra pay.

Long wait, brief meeting with doctors

All good things arrive unto them that wait, but one can’t say the same for patients in Abuja. Despite long hours of waiting, doctors could only see patients for a brief moment. All the consultation session with doctors observed by The ICIR never lasted more than five minutes.

The Doctor at the Bwari General Hospital despite complaints by The ICIR reporter of a serious stomach ache, he only asked two quick questions and directed the reporter to the pharmacy, spending approximately three minutes, likewise for other four patients that went in earlier and two other  that came in later after the reporter.

At Wuse District Hospital,  two doctors were on duty that morning, and the doors of both consultation rooms were never left closed for more than five minutes. It was always a sharp, brief consultation as they quickly move to the next patient.

But at the Federal Medical Centre, where patients pay more to see a doctor, the reverse is the case.

Compared to other countries where consultation with the doctor last for as long as 15 to 20 minutes, Nigeria still lags behind other nations.

    Dr Greg Irving of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom said in a report that shorter consultations have been linked to poorer health state of patients.

    He noted that with longer appointment times, there would be an increase in good health status and a better patient-doctor conversation thereby giving a chance to having a happy patient.

    According to findings, the longest waiting time to see a doctor in the United States of America (USA) is 28-30 minutes in two-star hospitals also in Canada, it is was reported that the average waiting time for a patient to see a doctor is 30 minutes.

    Long waiting hours is common not only in Nigeria but in Africa as a there are reports that in some part of South Africa, patients wait for more than four hours before they can see a doctor.

    Lukman Abolade is an Investigative reporter with The ICIR. Reach out to him via [email protected], on twitter @AboladeLAA and FB @Correction94

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    1. So what is the basis of your report and what do you hope to achieve. For how long have you been investigating issues like this in the Nigerian health care system and what impact hast made? Who are you blaming for all these. Have you investigated the poor conditions under which health care workers strain themselves to cater for the teeming populace? Are these not the same reasons for the incessant strike actions in the healthcare system and heavy medical brain being witnessed by the country today. So what point are you trying to make. Has your investigations been a guide to government policy direction in the healthcare system. The issues you have raised cant go beyond the talking space of our home ceilings so long as health care provision is not prioritised by the government. And you will probably have this write up in another decade again. How can you be comparing our health care indices to that of developing countries who priorities health care at all levels. I don’t think there is any basis for comparism and i think your graphical inclination towards issues like the this should be directed to the right quarters for consumation instead of making a public caricature of the very obvious!

    2. Thank you for taking out time to do this survey. However we have noted that the comparison was not thorough. In the U.S we have 28 to 30 minutes waiting time for how many patients per day? To how many doctors consulting?
      If the 2 doctors took 30 minutes each to see a patient with over 50 patient in the waiting room, how many hours of consultation would that amount to?
      I believe with these few questions of mine you would be able to guess what is the root of the problem at these hospitals to suggest the right solutions.thank you.

    3. I would have loved if this report also mentioned how many doctors were on duty or man those hospitals. There are logistic reasons for increased waiting time but poor staffing remains a major factor too.


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