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  • Thursday, June 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Patients’ misery mounts as energy guzzles 40% of hospitals costs

Patients seeking medical care now face “double misery” as outrageous energy bills mop up more than 40 per cent of hospitals’ overhead costs in Nigeria, the Association of Nigeria Private Medical Practitioners (ANPMP) has revealed.

Already struggling with inflation that makes healthy food unaffordable, electricity costs have also pit more Nigerians against high medical bills, with hospitals shifting part of their expanding operational costs to patients.

Many lack health insurance and rely on out-of-pocket payments, making high medical bills even more difficult to bear.

As President Bola Tinubu reversed his decision to sustain electricity subsidy in April, the tariff rate jumped by over 300 per cent to N225 kilowatts per hour from N66 for customers categorised under band A by distribution companies.

Even when an N19 reduction was effected early in May as a reflection of exchange rate movement, the increase remained above 300 per cent.

This has thrown a critical industry into chaos, Kay Adesola, ANPMP president, told BusinessDay.

“In the hospital setting, energy rationing only brings worse results. Yet, somebody must bear the burden of the rising cost. Most times, the same impoverished citizens bear the burden. It can be so saddening when some patients tell you after knowing the cost of a procedure “Is it not better to go home and die”. It makes the doctor feel very bad. He cannot sustain the practice of free services,” Adesola explained.

Electricity is vital, from the most basic tasks like electronic patient registration to operating room equipment, infection prevention measures, and the storage of medications and vaccines. It is even essential for complex procedures like reviving a patient in intensive care.

An average of 5 hospitals shut down monthly

An average of five hospitals shut down monthly across the country despite a population with far greater need for more medical facilities and personnel, Adesola said.

For those still in business, the rising energy costs coupled with the exorbitant rate of importing drugs, devices, medical consumables, and equipment is making it tougher to break even without choking patients.

The challenge has pressured hospitals into demanding huge amounts in deposits for treatment, leaving poor patients helpless, and deepening the disparity in access to good quality of care.

Abiola Fashina-Ayoola, medical director and head of Emergency and Critical Care at R-Jolad Hospital told BusinessDay that there are months when its energy bills consume over N50 million but still struggle to keep the lights on.

R-Jolad is a 215-bed multi-specialist hospital that requires energy to power equipped facilities such as a laminar flow theatre and a full cardiology suite.

“Power is a huge one. When you are using generators a lot when there is a fuel crisis, those generators break down. We have a combination of renewable energy and fossil fuel-based energy to sort of mix it up to ensure that certain areas are powered properly and that critical equipment doesn’t go out. So we are struggling like everyone else to meet that need,” the medical director said.

Kehinde Oyesiku, chief business officer, of Evercare Hospital, Lekki, one of Nigeria’s elite tertiary hospitals told BusinessDay earlier that the cost of powering its two 750 kilo-volt-amperes generators that are backup runs over N10 million in a month, despite having a direct connection with the Eko Electricity Distribution Company.

Larger healthcare institutions are not left out of the struggle which indirectly impacts the cost of care.

Lilian Ekpo, director of the NSIA-LUTH Cancer Centre said the electricity provided through the national grid is often weak to power its highly sensitive equipment such as linear accelerators.

The centre relies on diesel generators which pushed its energy bill over N15 million as of May 9.

The Centre is an outpatient cancer centre that offers consultation, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and pharmacy services.

Its equipment mix includes 2 VitalBeam linear accelerators, a Halcyon machine, a GammaMed Brachytherapy machine, one CT Simulator, one C-arm machine; and an Ultrasound machine.

ANPMP demands a special tariff

Linear accelerators, for instance, are used to generate high-energy x-ray and electron beams for radiation therapy.

“Even when we have power from the grid, if it is fluctuating; we cannot utilize it. So we need to turn off and switch to the generator. Thankfully, the price of diesel is coming down as the Dangote refinery has opened. At least from February, we have had dollar rates come down from about N1,900 to let’s say N1,300 to N1,400. But that’s a lot of money and it’s impacting the business as well. Again, part of what affects the cost of treatment is the entire cost of running the business,” Ekpo explained.

Adedamola Dada, chief medical director, of FMC Ebute-Meta, a public tertiary hospital, said there is a need for a solution tailored to hospitals for the social services they provide.

Dada, who feels lucky his hospital comes under band B, acknowledged that the rising tariff has more than doubled energy costs for some of his colleagues in band A areas.

At the 46th Annual General Meeting and International Scientific Conference of ANPMP, one of the major resolutions in its communique is the demand for the establishment of a “Special Health Sector Electricity Tariff” to serve as a subsidy for the critical sector.

The association stated that it initiated a discussion with the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission two years ago, but no action has been taken since.

Adesola believes the intervention will mitigate the outrageous bills and cut costs of care.

“Several hospitals are shutting down. Patients are dying from needlessly. It is no fun that ANPMP is calling on the President to prevail on the NERC to create a special health facility electricity tariff for all existing hospitals in the country. We count on all Nigerians for support on this call on the President as health is wealth to you and me and every other citizen,” Adesola said.

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