Kenyatta National Hospital has always been in the news for the wrong reasons, despite the tremendously crucial role it is meant to play in public healthcare. Not long ago, there was the highly publicised story of women being detained in the maternity and other wards for failure to pay bills. This led to the discharge of some 250 patients at a time when the hospital was owed billions of shillings.
There have also been fears over the safety of patients, with sensational claims of rape in the wards, which officials have denied.
Nevertheless, KNH remains key in the provision of medical services, and as a university teaching hospital. These services do not come cheap.
KNH has also distinguished itself with remarkable medical feats, including pioneering kidney transplants and a delicate 23-hour separation of conjoined twins. Others include the re-implanting of a teenager’s severed arm. But it seems KNH’s stellar performance has also been its undoing. Past efforts to decongest the hospital by having it concentrate only on referral cases has not dissuaded patients from flocking to the hospital seeking treatment. KNH continues to shoulder the burden, with inadequate resources. The situation is worsened by the mounting unpaid bills.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that while appearing before the National Assembly’s Public Investment Committee last Thursday, acting CEO Evanson Kamuri urged the government to help the hospital recover debts. He also wants the Treasury to set up a fund to cushion the hospital against genuinely poor patients who get services but cannot pay the bills. Besides the Sh7 billion debt, the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) also reportedly owes KNH Sh1.3 billion in unpaid claims.
This is a monumental challenge, coming at a time when a law to stop hospitals detaining patients over bills is being mooted. The KNH needs adequate funds and other resources to operate efficiently and effectively.