Implementing Patients’ Bill of Rights
History was unfolded on July 31, 2018, when Acting President Yemi Osinbajo launched the Patients’ Bill of Rights, setting the tone for improved service delivery in the country’s parlous health sector.
Hitherto, the nation’s health sector lacked a policy or legal instrument aggregating all the rights and privileges of patients, and thus, impacted damagingly on patients-health workers’ relations.
Across Nigeria’s public hospitals, patients’ relationship with health officials is typically frosty. Fuelled by the uncaring and indifferent posture of some health workers to the plight of patients, the hospital environment has been mostly hostile.
Patients are not respected and treated with courtesy. Rather, hospital staff humiliate and snub them without recourse to good conscience. It is therefore common sight for patients to be helplessly subjected under verbal abuse, outright disregard, and other degrading treatments including poor attention, inadequate medication or lack of it.
The outcry among pregnant women, severely ill and elderly patients as well as accident victims and poor patients in city centres has been loud; little wonder the Consumer Protection Council, CPC, spearheaded the enactment of the policy in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.
Presumably, the council had been pelted with a salvo of complaints from patients who have suffered under the highhandedness of hospital employees or family members who have lost loved ones as a result of similar treatment.
While service delivery remains elusive in most public establishments in the country, it is pertinent to state that patients seeking medical attention in public or private facilities do so in the hope of staying alive, and their life expectancy depends on the quality of healthcare they get.
Against this backdrop, the federal government must be commended for ensuring that lapses in the delivery of medical services to patients are frontally addressed through this well-crafted policy.
Although the bill is an aggregation of patients’ rights by the CPC that are enshrined in the constitution and other relevant laws, it guarantees, among other things, patients’ fair treatment.
The bill spells out the patient's right to relevant information, right to timely access to medical records, right to transparent billing, right to privacy, right to clean healthcare environment, and right to be treated with respect.
Other rights include: the right to receive urgent care, right to reasonable visitation, right to decline care, right to decline or accept to participate in medical research, right to quality care and the right to complain and express dissatisfaction regarding services received.
While launching the bill in Abuja, Osinbajo said, “it will ensure that the increasing funding that is coming into healthcare in Nigeria translates into a direct improvement in the quality of the final output at what one might call the ‘last mile’ phase of healthcare delivery, the very personal arena of interaction between health personnel and the beneficiaries of the healthcare.”
As observers of sundry policies ruthlessly shelved by successive administrations, regardless of their usefulness to the nation’s healthcare goals, it is imperative to state that only a full implementation of the bill can regain the trust of Nigerians towards healthcare providers.
Implementing agencies such as primary healthcare as well as secondary and tertiary hospices must endeavour to carry out sensitisation of their personnel in line with the new policy to imbue them with prescribed professional conduct in relating with patients while improving the quality of their services.
Having been betrayed by decades of degrading treatment, every citizen must endeavour to acquaint himself with the Patients’ Bill of Rights and insist on compliance when receiving medical treatment from health workers.
Law enforcement agents and the courts must also brace up to tackle cases of violation with the required attention and probity, no matter whose ox is gored.