HEALTH Minister Nkaku Kabi yesterday launched a blistering attack on the country’s only referral hospital, Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital, accusing its management of working to tarnish government’s image.
Mr Kabi said government would not hesitate to take the war to the doorstep of the referral hospital, commonly referred to Tšepong, to ensure that the lives of Basotho were protected.
His remarks came barely a week after the hospital announced that it would only admit patients with life threatening conditions or attend to emergencies until further notice.
Tšepong further stated that it will no longer facilitate non-emergency referrals to Bloemfontein, South Africa and that patients who need treatment in Bloemfontein will be referred directly by the Ministry of Health.
However, Mr Kabi accused Tšepong of being “attention seekers” who only released the statement to divert the negative publicity it had been receiving to the Ministry of Health when in actual fact, the hospital had failed in its mandate of delivering quality services to Basotho.
“Our suspicion is that they are closing these (hospital) wards to cause mayhem and divert the attention to the Ministry of Health,” Mr Kabi said.
“We have a contract with Tšepong which they have been failing to comply with.
“As per our agreement with Tšepong, we have public wards which are subsidised by the government and the private wards which are supposed to be run by Tšepong who should incur all the risks and finances.
“They (Tšepong) have been avoiding to run the private wards at their own expense and only opened them to the public so that government can pay them. They then kept reminding us that the opening of the private wards to the public would result in costs to the government yet they were never supposed to be opened to the public in the first place.”
Mr Kabi said although there were ongoing talks aimed at finding long-lasting solutions to the challenges at the hospital, it was wrong for Tšepong to announce that they closed the private wards to comply with the original agreement with the government.
He said the hospital authorities erred when they said that the Ministry of Health had called for the closure of the private wards when they knew very well that they should have operated such wards at their own expense.
“We are simply referring to the contract which was supposed to be followed. Tšepong need to be clear about the private wards.
“Tšepong is also expected to perform other special health services or operations but it fails to perform such services and refer patients to Bloemfontein.
“Tšepong is supposed to refer patients at its own expense because the expectation is that if they fail or lack the expertise they are supposed to have, they should not bill us for the costs of such referrals. The contract clearly states that it is their responsibility to source those services.
“Besides this we had a gentleman’s agreement with them to assist us with logistical arrangements for the referrals of cancer renal and plastic surgery patients while we bore the costs. If they are abandoning that arrangement, we are ready to take over as the responsibility has always been ours but only used them for convenience. We will use our ambulance or we will outsource to a private ambulance company and pay them to carry out the work.”
He said the ministry was still waiting to take delivery of the equipment it had ordered so that they can attend patients at chosen regional hospitals such as the Motebang Hospital and Mafeteng Hospitals. He said when that happens Tšepong would be used only in emergencies.
“Ours is to wait for the medical equipment to arrive, they should close their private wards and we should close Tšepong. We should beef up our system and see how they will survive without any referrals because they have failed to do what they are supposed to do.”
He accused Tšepong of acting the way it did out of the knowledge that it took a long time to resolve disputes in the courts of law.
For her part, the Director General in the Ministry of Health, Nyane Letsie, said they were not fighting Tšepong but wanted it to remain a tertiary hospital.
“We are working towards a point where there will be three hospitals that are going to be used as regional hospitals,” she said.
The Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Mole Khumalo, said they met with doctors and nurses from hospitals around the country on Tuesday who pledged to assist the government to ensure that patients were not adversely affected by the developments at Tšepong.
Contacted for comment, Tšepong Public Relations Officer Mothepane Thahane said they would be grateful if the government took over the provision of health services at some of the regional hospitals.
Ms Thahane said they are ready to share any information and render any assistance that would be required to ensure the ministry succeeded in the provision of services.
She further said she was in no position to engage in a spat with Mr Kabi as she had so much respect for him as the Minister of Health.