Barring Doctors from Private Medical Practice – Getting the Facts Right

Barring Doctors from Private Medical Practice – Getting the Facts Right

 By Ibrahim Lateef Abiola

The Internet was agog with the decision of the federal government to ban doctors working in government hospitals from operating a private medical practice. Even though, most of the headlines do not really convey the right information which among other things include the plan of the federal government to overhaul the healthcare sector with a view to resolving inter-professional disharmony in the sector. I am amazed at how most of our media outlets have a kind of ‘distaste’ for doctors; they intentionally or unintentionally misinform the general public on the issues relating to doctors.

The health minister while addressing the media stated that there is need to do a comprehensive job evaluation of the health sector, the government is setting up a committee to look into the job description of each individual in the health sector and paying them accordingly. Also, the government is planning to review residency training with a view to making it a fixed term of seven years. Also, a white paper will be issued on the Ahmed Yayale report on the relationship between professional groups in the health sector. I don’t understand how barring the doctors from private medical practice will solve the problem of the health sector.

For the avoidance of doubt, I neither own a private hospital nor work in one; the point is that Nigerians should endeavor to address collective problems without prejudice. How does barring doctors from private medical practice be a cause for celebration? There is a systemic rot in the health sector which needs to be addressed; this should be our priority rather than be vindictive of doctors.

I do not have issues with barring doctors from private medical practice; the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria is clear on this. The code of medical ethics in Nigeria, Rule 49 clearly states the following regarding private medical practice:

1. Medical and dental practitioners who are in full-time employment in the public service in Nigeria are free to employ their spare time and unofficial hours to engage in medical or dental practice for remuneration as follows:

a. A registered practitioner in full-time employment in the public service shall not engage himself in extra-mural private practice during official duty time under any circumstances.

b. A registered practitioner who holds the appointment of Consultant status or a medical or dental officer of more than Ten years post-registration experience may run one private consulting clinic which will open for business only during periods when he is not on official duty.

c. A Consultant or registered practitioner of similar status in (b) above shall offer in-hospital care to his private patients only within the public hospital he is in full employment. It is unethical for a registered practitioner in full employment in the public service to give in-hospital care, that is investigatory, admission and institutional care to patients outside the hospital in which he is in fulltime employment.

d. A registered practitioner of more than ten years post-registration who is in full time employment in the public service but is not engaged in clinical responsibilities in the public hospital may engage, outside the official duty hours, in clinical practice in an institution owned and run by full time private practitioners or hold consultations only in his own consulting clinic.

e. It is unethical for a registered practitioner engaged in a public health institution to demand and/or receive money from hospital patients under any guise whatsoever, either before or in the course of attending such patients.”

2. Private Practice by Non-Consultant Registered Practitioners who are in Full-Time Employment in the Public Service:

A medical or dental practitioner who does not have the status of a Consultant may engage in private practice outside his office hours in an institution owned and managed by a full-time private practitioner. It is unethical for a registered practitioner who is not a consultant or less than ten years post-registration and who is in the public service to own and run any private medical or dental facility.

Therefore, the news that doctors would be barred from private medical practice is nothing new; there are clearly established guidelines as stated above. Whether some of the doctors break these laws is another topic for discussion later.

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