Editorial: Detention of patients for non-payment of bills must stop!

The Director in charge of the Global Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) Programme at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, is quoted by the graphiconline.com as saying that health facilities in Ghana and other parts of Africa should stop detaining patients who are unable to pay their medical bills after treatment.

According to him,  the detention of patients and family members for non-payment of medical bills was not only  harmful to their health, but it also contravened international law especially human rights laws.

Just recently, The Chronicle published a story of a 15-year old student, Josephine Koryo Nartey, who is in her final year at the Manya Krobo Senior High School at Odumase Krobo, in the Lower Manya Krobo Municipality of the Eastern Region, who was detained in the hospital because of her single mother’s inability to pay her medical bill of GH¢15,000.00.

Josephine Nartey had gone to buy drugs at a nearby Pharmacy when a motorbike crashed into her, resulting in serious head injuries. She was first rushed to the St Martin’s Hospital at Agormanya in the same municipality. Due to the gravity of the injury, she was referred to the University of Ghana Medical Centre (UGMC) to continue with treatment.

Though the specialist hospital accepted to treat the poor girl, she was detained after she had been discharged because her mother could not pay the medical bill. This is a case of hit and run accident, where the motor cyclist absconded, but the mother had to suffer the double agony because she could not pay for the bill.

Looking at the case we have just referenced, The Chronicle fully agrees with the concerns of the WHO Director because the issue raises serious concerns about healthcare accessibility and human rights violations.

The current economic condition does not make it easy for people to even afford three square mealsa day, let alone talk about medical bills. The National Health Insurance (NHIS) too isn’t favourable in conditions like this.

The fact that her (Josephine) mother had to endure the distress of seeing her daughter detained due to financial constraints is a reminder of the inequalities prevalent in our healthcare system.

The Chronicle finds it imperative for the government, the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service to consider comprehensive policy reforms that prioritise healthcare accessibility and affordability for all citizens, especially the economically disadvantaged.

One key aspect that requires immediate attention is the need to establish more equitable payment plans that accommodate the financial capabilities of patients and their families.

Furthermore, the effectiveness and coverage of health insurance schemes, such as the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) need to be reassessed and strengthened to ensure that they adequately support individuals in need of medical care. The current situation, where health insurance is not effectively addressing the financial burden faced by patients, calls for urgent interventions.

Equally important is the implementation of guidelines that prohibit the detention of patients solely based on their inability to pay medical bills. Healthcare facilities should prioritise patient care and well-being, rather than resorting to punitive measures that exacerbate the suffering of vulnerable individuals.

Healthcare should be a fundamental right accessible to all, irrespective of their economic status, and it is time to address these longstanding issues for the benefit of every Ghanaian citizen.



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