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19.10.2019 Feature Article

Public Sector Health Workers Deserve Free Healthcare

Public Sector Health Workers Deserve Free Healthcare

Apparently, the public sector health worker in Ghana can be likened to the sewing needle. The needle helps the dressmaker to stitch so many pieces of cloth but remains unclothed. The dressmaker uses the needle to sew but does not sew any of the clothes for the needle; the needle only carries a thread in its eye.

Like the needle is used by the dressmaker for achieving his or her goal, the public sector health worker is used by government to deliver healthcare to the people and apart from the salaries they receive for the jobs they do, there is no special healthcare plan that successive governments have put in place for the public sector health workers.

At least prior to the introduction of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), most public sector health facilities used to provide some level of free healthcare to their staff in active service if not for those on retirement but even that free service had strict limitations.

With the introduction of the NHIS, the directive was given that all public sector health workers should register with the NHIS and that free treatment arrangements that existed earlier should be discontinued with. This has been the situation till date. A government health worker who does not have a valid NHIS membership card cannot have access to free healthcare.

Just like any member of the public holding the NHIS membership card but has to buy the mediations because they are not covered by the NHIS, the public sector health worker is compelled to buy the medications from his or her meagre salary whether or not the hospital he or she works for has the medications in stock. Why? It is because there is no public policy that states that the public sector health worker should be given free treatment at public hospitals. The concept of the needle stitching clothes but remaining naked comes to play.

The stories are told of many public sector health workers who are equally treating certain chronic conditions from their personal coffers. Numerous stories have also been told of some public sector health workers dying because they could not afford certain costly treatments for their ailments.

It is as if the employer (government) only values the public sector health workers when they are healthy and active at work. That aside, a lot is required from the public sector health worker to save lives of other people and he or she is heavily criticized or dragged to the courts should something go wrong in the treatment of a patient. It is as if the lives of others are better than that of the health worker.

The situation even gets worse for the health worker after he or she has retired compulsorily form active service. Mostly, old age presents with its health conditions that need certain medications for treatment and some of these medications are expensive and retirees find it difficult to afford such medications. The retired health workers often return to the public hospitals begging their junior colleagues in active service to give them free treatment.

Their fate is dependent on the magnanimous gestures of their colleagues in active service because no policy mandates them to give free treatment to any health worker (retired or not) who does not have a valid NHIS card or if he or she has the valid NHIS card but the services and /or medications are not covered by the NHIS.

It is pitiful that some public sector workers are given certain privileges but the health worker is virtually abandoned. Others are not only taken care of but also their dependents are catered for. The same health worker is used to provide the required healthcare to others.

The irony is that the same health worker gets the opportunity to become a politician and the fortunes are several times better than being a public servant. The logical question is therefore posed that why won’t people become politicians not because they want to serve the public interest but only to make money? We have seen public servants who were receiving meagre salaries yesterday and are politicians today and the situation can be described as from grass to grace.

If we allow this unfortunate situation to continue for a long time, corruption will not stop and dedication to duty will not be there so total development of the nation will remain a mirage and because the world will not stop and wait for us, we will continue to beg for alms as a country. Yes, we beg for alms internationally and we call them loans.

The government has made it a ritual to increase salaries for public servants only by 10% every year and even that 10% is virtually swallowed by income tax deductions while article 71 workers are pampered and catered for as if the country is for them alone. In fact, Former President Kufuor was right and still right when he said, “government pretends to pay the public servants and the public servants also pretend to work”. Exceptionally, however, a significant number of public servants actually work and do not pretend to be working. There is the need to make free treatment available for public sector health workers whether or not they are on retirement. We do not need another Kume Preko demonstration to compel the government to do so, as it was done in the case of the VAT law in 1995.

~ Asante Sana ~

Philip Afeti Korto
Philip Afeti Korto, © 2019

Philip Afeti Korto is a seasoned Health Service Administrator and a prolific writer. He is a member of Association of Health Service Administrators, Ghana (AHSAG). Author column: AfetiKorto

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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