A house of representatives committee during a hearing on Thursday listened to submissions on a bill seeking the establishment of an additional Federal Medical Centre in Oghara, Delta State.
Delta State currently has a Federal Medical Centre in Asaba, the state capital.
There is a standing rule that a state cannot have two federal medical centres.
The lawmakers also received a submission by the health minister, Osagie Ehanire, which was sent to the House Committee on Healthcare Institutions for the public hearing on the bill.
Details of the minister’s submission were not released by the lawmakers.
At the public hearing on Thursday, the sponsor of the bill, Rolland Igbakpa (PDP, Delta), had argued that the Federal Medical Centre in Asaba is too far for the people of Oghara.
He recounted instances of patients falling prey to robbers and kidnappers while travelling to the FMC in capital city.
He said, “a patient had been doing dialysis at the Federal Medical Centre in Asaba, because it is cheaper to do it there than one of the teaching hospitals that have been outsourced, on their way, about 3 p.m., they set out on a journey, they were accosted by kidnappers, one of them was killed, and the patient was taken into custody for three days before the family was able to pay the ransom, they were later released the third day, and on the fourth day, the patient died.
“I know people will ask, why not strengthen the primary healthcare in the area? The answer is simple, we need specialists.”
He also argued that Oghara has a huge population and urged the ministry to trigger the ‘exception clause’ in the guideline for the establishment of FMCs.
Ministers representative speaks
Meanwhile, Shetak Gilbert, who represented the minister at the public hearing on the bill, said the ministry was committed to the attainment of universal healthcare services as argued by the lawmaker.
“I listened carefully to the presentation of the lawmaker. He has stated a lot of things that the ministry of health is in agreement with. He talked about healthcare access, he talked about the population of his people and of course, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Health are working in tandem with the World Health Organisation to achieve universal health care coverage. Of course, we need to bring healthcare services closer to the people.
“Ministry of Health, in the spirit of achieving universal health coverage, will continue to work with this committee and the National Assembly in general, to achieve this quest,” he said.
However, the chairperson of the committee, Pascal Obi (APC, Imo), said the presentation by Mr Gilbert, a medical doctor, was ‘inconsistent’ with the written submission of the minister.
“I browsed through this presentation, and the nucleus of what it represents is somehow inconsistent with the speech you gave to us. Hence, is the ministry in support of the bill?
“Are you changing the speech of the minister of health, because your speech is inconsistent with the content of the Minister’s submission?”
Mr Gilbert responded that the submission of the minister on the proposed bill stands.
He, however, stated that he will get feedback to the minister based on the presentation by Mr Igbakpa.
In his closing remarks, the chairperson, while making reference to the minister’s presentation, which his representative did not disclose, said the committee was aware of the policy of the ministry on the establishment of FMCs, adding that the committee will continue further consultation on the bill.
“You (Mr Igbakpa) have made a fine presentation, and we have also gone through the speech of the honourable minister of health,” Mr Obi said.
“There is a standing rule that we cannot have two federal medical centres in a state and that rule has not been changed, and also, where in a state, there is an existing federal teaching hospital, such a state should not ask for a federal medical centre.
“Those are the things that when we get back to committee level, we will brainstorm and consult further with the federal ministry of health before we will submit a report to the House of Representatives. Be rest assured that we will do justice to the bill you have brought to us.”
The bill was introduced on December 10, 2019 and it passed the second reading on February 13, 2020.