Consumer council seeks to enforce patients’ rights in Nigerian hospitals

File photo of Resident Doctors
File photo of Resident Doctors

The Director General of the Consumer Protection Council, Babatunde Irukera, has said the agency has concluded plans to introduce a ‘Patient’s Bill of Rights,’ in Nigerian hospitals to govern the relationship between health practitioners and their patients.

Speaking during an interaction with journalists in Lagos on Thursday, Mr. Irukera said the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA as well as pharmacists’ bodies and other stakeholders in the health sector, had bought into the initiative.

“If we can just clean up how we treat ourselves, the dignity, the respect, the regard, the quality of care,” said Mr. Irukera, who was appointed head of the agency last April.

“Just that alone and let’s leave the infrastructure challenges, we can save lives. And so one of our big things we are working on and we hope that comes out very soon is the Patient’s Bill of Rights, just a statement of the rights of patients and the responsibility of healthcare providers and we intend to translate it into different languages and make it mandatory that it’s pasted in public hospitals and even private hospitals, put it out and paste.

“Just let people know, both the people who should know their rights and those who have a duty to respect those rights, just seeing it every day. People are not inherently bad, some are, but most are not, just that constant reminder of obligation would clean at least half of the space and we’d have a better country and perhaps one life will be saved. If we do anything that saves just one life, we’ve succeeded.”

At the Strategic Engagement with Directors, Business and News Editors tagged ‘Partnership for Progress,’ Mr. Irukera emphasised the importance of the media as an influencer of public opinion and urged them to beam their searchlight on the activities of regulatory agencies in the country.

“Another big area for me is bank charges and I’m still experiencing challenges moving out big against the banks because I need to build a consensus of stakeholders especially other regulators, that consensus is taking time,” he said.

“If I had partners in the media, that consensus won’t take much time because those other regulators will be under pressure, and we will. I’ll give you a type of statement that will make all of them look like the bad guys.”

The CPC boss said his agency is expanding collaborations with other regulators like the CBN, NCC, SON, NERC, NAFDAC, NITDA through the injection of consumer protection issues in their memorandum of understanding.

“I spoke in Ibadan last week, I think, it was the CBN who invited me to speak at the E-Payment and Fraud platform and I went there from a consumer protection standpoint, I said let me tell some of the biggest challenges consumers experience.

“So I make a booking on WakaNow and I pay from my account, at the end of the day WakaNow cancels my booking because they didn’t get the money. First that’s an inconvenience. Perhaps I go back to try and make that booking I don’t get that same fare anymore, that’s an injury, and my account is showing that I’m less the money. And they said the problem is that sometimes there’s a confusion, the vendor doesn’t get it, the payment system is down and I said we can’t resolve that against consumers.

“Going forward, I’m going to insist that you guys have a service level agreement that has an indemnity clause so that whatever the case may be, money is moving to the vendor and the consumer is getting the service, you have the technology. If it’s that the systems are down and the money can’t move, let the bank place a hold. And so those are the kinds of things we are engaging the other regulators on so that the lives and experiences of consumers get even better.”

Mr. Irukera further said the CPC would roll out broad comprehensive regulations on guarantees and warranties – what he described as a “key game changer” in the industry – in the first quarter of 2018.

“Meaning that all that thing that you bought something and you’re dissatisfied with it and the man said ‘Well, when somebody else buys it I can give you the money or take another one.’ There must be a way for warranties to be enforceable and there must be clear policies with respect to refund, returns, and repairs. It’s something that we deserve and it’s a right that the consumers have.”

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