Free health care a nightmare

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday 14th of March, 2014

A WOMAN suffering a fractured hand who was taken to the Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH) last week is all the wiser now about what goes on in the accident and emergency unit and the hospital as a whole.
Her experience is such that she is not too keen to seek treatment at the country’s premier hospital in the near future, at least not until many improvements have been made to its operations.
She broke her arm at the elbow and an X-ray revealed it was a compound fracture.
Even in excruciating pain the woman had to wait for more than 12 hours before she was attended to by medical staff.
The overcrowded accident and emergency unit was full of patients with similar injuries and ailments. One patient had his hand chopped at the wrist with only a shred of skin holding it together.
Under normal hospital operational procedures, such serious cases require quick and immediate medical attention but on this particular day the patients had to wait for hours before the handful of medical staff attended to them.
As usual, the operating theatre was busy throughout that day.
The patients’ pain and suffering, which was made worse by their disgruntled guardians, summed up the chaotic and almost helpless situation at the hospital.
The PMGH’s chronic woes have been the subject of numerous public complaints and media reports. 
Despite the concerns and criticisms, a good effort has been put into refurbishing and maintaining the hospital recently, which has resulted in a brighter and more hygienic environment.
However, much more needs to be done.
PMGH requires not only changes to its physical infrastructure and replacement of ageing medical equipment but an increase in medical staff, especially doctors and nurses. 
Patient to doctor ratio at Port Moresby General Hospital and elsewhere is critically disproportionate.
Take a quick look at what is going on at the country’s premier referral hospital and one would be quite convinced that the O’Neill Government’s free public health policy could in the short term exacerbate the critical shortage of manpower and facilities at government funded health institutions.
It is likely to turn what is supposed to be an enjoyable and satisfying profession into a frustrating chore. 
Why? Quite simply, the PMGH and other public hospitals are unprepared to provide an efficient and effective level primary health care. 
The situation before the announcement by the O’Neill Government was bad enough; the free health services simply means the number of patients calling into the hospital will become unmanageable to the limited number of hospital staff.
As it is, PMGH is seriously under-staffed and needs more doctors and nurses.  The current staff are overworked and under enormous pressure to provide medical services for the thousands of patients from the National Capital District and others on referral from other provinces.
The government may need to build another public hospital similar in size to PMGH to cater for the increase in patients spurred by the free healthcare policy.
Plans to build a modern hospital at Bautama, outside Port Moresby, were considered too ambitious and were therefore shelved. 
However, that does mean that a second major public health facility is not needed because the NCD and Central Province do need another major hospital.
In opening up several suburban health centres, the municipal authority and the Department of Health were of the view that the number of patients calling into the referral hospital would be kept at a manageable number as most requiring primary health care services would be served in the suburban clinics.
However, even those clinics are overcrowded while the situation at PMGH is no better, if not worse.
Health workers, like any other professionals, are entitled to job satisfaction under a reasonable amount of stress. 
The level of work at Port Moresby General Hospital threatens to rob the hard working medical staff at the hospital of that privilege of serving our people as well as the satisfaction they get from saving lives.