‘Tšepong bleeds govt of millions’
DEPUTY Minister of Health, ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli, has pleaded with Basotho to refrain from “referring” themselves to Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital for medical services as the institution charged the government a staggering M15 000 for each patient attended to by the hospital regardless of the ailment.
Ms Phohleli said even patients reporting at the hospital for minor ailments such as headaches and stomachaches cost the government M15 000 each.
This means the government pays the hospital M5 250 000 for 350 patients that the hospital says it attends to on a weekly basis. It also means that a staggering M21 million of the Ministry of Health’s annual budget goes to Tšepong every month.
As if this was not enough, Ms Phohleli said the hospital further charges the government approximately M180 million per year for seeing extra patients that are not covered in the 18-year Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement the two parties signed with the Tšepong consortium in 2008.
Ms Phohleli made the plea to Basotho on Friday as Tšepong and its four filter clinics continued to turn away patients after reaching its contractual quota of in-patients.
Widely known as Tšepong, Queen ‘Mamohato, is Lesotho’s main referral hospital.
It was opened in 2011 replacing Queen Elizabeth II Hospital as the country’s major referral health facility.
It refers cancer patients to Pelonomi, Univesitus and National hospitals in South Africa, with government footing the bill. The hospital is owned by the government but is run by the Tšepong consortium of five companies, namely Netcare Healthcare Group and Afri’nnai of South Africa, as well as Excel Health, Women Investment and D10 Investments from Lesotho.
All along the hospital would take in patients whenever they sought treatment for various ailments but that changed last October when the hospital management announced that they would only admit patients with life threatening conditions and attend to emergencies until further notice.
This was in response to a government announcement that it would no longer pay the hospital for in-patients beyond the contractual number of 20 000 in-patients per year. Tšepong is mandated by the government to provide health services to a maximum of 310 000 outpatients and 20 000 inpatients annually.
The contractual quota of 20 000 inpatients was first reached in September 2018 but the hospital could still be admitting more patients to its private wards and other departments had it not been for the government’s announcement that it would not pay for any extra admissions.
The situation had eased from the beginning of this year as some patients were discharged and the hospital had been taking in new admissions. However, just over a fortnight ago, the hospital’s public relations officer, Mothepane Thahane, announced that the hospital was once again filled to the brim and they would no longer admit new patients.
On Friday, Ms Phohleli said the Tšepong consortium informed the government on that the hospital would only see 50 patients per day while its filter clinics would each attend to 35 patients per day. She said instead of only attending to patients who had been transferred to the institution, Tšepong was also attending to patients who went to the hospital on their own accord and this cost the government a lot of money.
“I want to make it crystal clear to every Mosotho that every time a Mosotho goes to Tšepong and pays M15, the government does not pay M15 as well,” Ms Phohleli said.
“Instead, the government pays M15 000 or more per patient attended to by the hospital. This is regardless of the ailment the patient presents at Tšepong and this includes headaches, stomachaches and other diseases that can be cured at Queen II, Domiciliary or any other hospital.
“Please only go to Tšepong when there is a serious need. Only when the ailment requires specialists and can only be cured at Tšepong. Please understand that Tšepong is not just a normal hospital, it is a tertiary hospital that only deals with complicated ailments. They are supposed to be dealing with ailments that other hospitals are unable to. Please use other hospitals and only go there when you have been referred by other hospitals,” Ms Phohleli said.
She said Tšepong had been unfair to the nation by refusing to offer HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) services to Basotho despite the fact that Lesotho had a high prevalence of such diseases and conditions.
“They (Tšepong) are unfair to us because the country is burdened by these diseases. We are surprised that they decided to cut the very same services that the country needs most.
“We are second in the world in terms of the HIV burden and first in TB.
“We also have other diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cancer. We have already removed the cancer services from Tšepong to Queen II Hospital”.
She however, said HIV, TB and other services were offered in other government hospitals and the ministry had asked pharmacists not to turn away people but give them medication for HIV and TB.
Ms Phohleli said they had ordered new medication and also alerted the National Drug Service Organisation (NDSO) of the high demand for services due to the stand-off with Tšepong.
Although Tšepong announced over a fortnight ago that it had reached its contractual quota of inpatients, Ms Phohleli said the ministry only discovered last week that Tšepong was turning away patients on the pretext that they were implementing the ministry’s orders.
“We are therefore announcing here that we never said they should turn away patients (they attend to).
“We told them to only administer health services that are covered by the contract but we did not tell them to turn away patients by telling patients who are already at the hospital that they will not be seen by a doctor because the government told them to do so (turn away patients). That is not the agreement we have with them.”
She then pleaded with the nation to not lose hope because the ministry was doing everything within its power to ensure that Basotho had access to quality health services. She said the ministry was in the process of mounting temporary mobile clinics at all Tšepong filter clinics to ensure that people did not travel long distances to access services.
Ms Phohleli said the stand-off with Tšepong did not however, mean that the relationship between the two parties had irretrievably broken down. “Our relations with Tšepong are not soured at all because Tšepong is here to serve Basotho and that means we will reprimand Tšepong when it does not serve the nation. It is our obligation to ensure that Basotho are given services they deserve no matter what it takes.
“Please accept that as much as we are discouraged by this, we still accept that Tšepong is carrying its mandate as it should. What is needed now is for them to keep us abreast with developments and make sure that we take joint decisions. They are providing us with a paid service and they must therefore engage us before making any decisions,” Ms Phohleli said.