Time to heal sick healthcare system

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday July 16th, 2015

 PAPUA New Guineans are dying from curable diseases every week but the most fru­strating aspect of their deaths is that all government hospitals are ill-equipped and lack specialist medical staff.

When the Government tries to upgrade hospitals and health facilities, they are faced with all kinds of obstacles. 

It is no mystery that most public hospitals in this country are inundated with maladministration and mismanagement. 

These hospitals are ill-equipped and under-resourced, which severely affects their capabilities to provide quality healthcare.

Urgent measures are nee­ded to improve the management of the hospitals and the healthcare they provide.

First and most, the Government needs to streamline the administration aspects of major referral hospitals, especially the hospital boards. 

In fact, they should cut unnecessary red tape in hospital management and align the chief executive officers of the hospitals to one regulatory hospital board, which is directly responsible to the Health Department. 

Eventually, that function should be transferred to an independent authority for all national referral hospitals. 

Once that is achieved, and then this authority can start looking at the appropriate measures to build capacity into our national referral hospitals to have the ability and capacity to deliver quality healthcare. 

They will hand manage and ensure that our medical doctors and nurses have the latest and best medical equipment that are covered with back-to-back technical support and warranty from the equipment suppliers. 

Currently, most of the public hospitals lack specialised medical equipment such as CT scans, ultrasound machines, MRI scans and digital X-ray machines. 

The Government must en­sure that these hospitals have well trained and skilled biomedical engineers, managers and technicians to ensure all these medical equipment are always up and running for our doctors and nurses to use to save lives through early detection and prevention of the root cause of illnesses and medical disorders. 

As well, the health auth­orities must ensure that hos­pitals can fund visiting experienced overseas medical specialists where we do not have and at the same time use them on either long or short term contracts to build skills capacity and have these skills transferred to local specialists, such as general and heart surgeons and cancer treatment specialist doctors and nurses. 

They must ensure that skilled local specialists are well looked after and retained for at least five to 10 years with binding employment contracts. 

With all of these the Government must be prepared to provide sufficient funds annually to building capacity for our current primary health care system.

They must be prepared to commit and remained committed to allocate a healthy budget every year to maintain and sustain a quality healthcare system. 

Money should no longer be an issue for the country with the upturn in the economy spurred by the production of liquefied natural gas.

We need to put aside personal differences of how to fix loopholes in our primary health care system and at the same time seriously and commit to entry and pushing secondary health to a new level. 

Yes, there are still problems today in our primary health care system, which one cannot deny. 

But to get to the secondary level of health care which focus on maintaining a quality health care system, we need to start fixing the management red tape to deliver primary health care properly and at the same time kick-start secondary health care systems. 

Some may argue that the focus should be on improving primary healthcare systems first but there is no reason why we cannot kick-start building on secondary health. 

And for that to happen our hospitals will need to have strong, committed and visionary leadership in these new hospital authorities, which will lead without fear or favour to ensure that the Government’s policy initiatives and programmes for a quality healthcare system be­come a reality. 

The chaotic situation at the provincial hospital in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, is not the ideal way to start delivery of an efficient health­care system in that province.

This situation must be avoided by other provincial health authorities at all costs.