BY JULIA NDLELA/TANYARADZWA NHARI
PRIVATE hospitals have been accused of rent-seeking behaviour as they are reportedly forcing critically-ill patients to undergo expensive Covid-19 tests.
An investigation by the Zimbabwe Independent unearthed that most private hospitals are allegedly colluding with some laboratories who are charging high fees for PCR tests.
The waiting period for the results determine the amount charged for the Covid-19 tests.
The laboratories are charging US$30 to access results in three hours, US$40 for two hours and US$60 for an hour’s waiting period. Therefore, most patients are forced to pay for the most expensive test depending on the critical nature of the illness. There are three main laboratories which have been carrying out the tests.
Such procedures, according to patients who requested anonymity, are tantamount to a violation of their rights to medical attention.
A snap survey at Avenues Clinic and Baines Avenues Clinic substantiated the claims being made by the patients.
At Baines Avenues Clinic, there is a temporary ward at the main entrance where a patient without a PCR test is detained while waiting for a test before admission.
Avenues Clinic officials denied the claims. However, the Independent news team posed as potential patients and interacted with hospital staff which revealed that patients were indeed compelled to undergo PCR tests.
“Why we require PCR test results before admission into the normal wards is to ensure that patients are Covid-19-free and will not expose other patients with compromised immune systems who will be in the wards,” Avenues Clinic corporate affairs officer Cordellia Shereni said.
“It is a policy that all patients who come through our casualty department in emergencies are stabilised before being asked to produce any documentation. Once a patient has been stabilised we admit them within our casualty unit isolation rooms and if admission into the hospital is required, it is policy that a negative PCR test is secured whilst the patient continues to receive requisite care.”
She denied the claims that patients without certificates were not immediately assisted.
“As for walk-in patients, they are screened as they come to the hospital and those who are asymptomatic (without symptoms) are directed into the hospital and assisted. Those who are symptomatic (with symptoms) are attended to in the tent with an antigen test conducted immediately and if the result is positive we follow the above protocol and if negative they proceed into the hospital also as above,” she added.
Efforts to get a comment from Baines Avenues Clinic managing director Letitia Gaga were fruitless.
Health and Child Care Deputy minister John Mangwiro did not respond to questions sent to him.
There are further allegations that these private health facilities might be subcontracting the laboratory companies.
“The hospital does not direct clients to any particular lab. However, we work with various Ministry (of Health) approved laboratories and patients are free to choose a laboratory,” Mangwiro said.
“We have been serving patients since Covid-19 was first detected in the country and we have implemented very robust systems to ensure that patients receive adequate service and care either as emergency patients or elective case patients,” Shereni said.
She added that Avenues ran the Montagu Covid-19 Clinic for the better part of last year during the height of the third wave and has been managing patients according to Ministry of Health and Child Care recommended standards.
Patients who spoke to the Independent questioned the rationale behind the demand for PCR tests despite the private health facilities’ capacity to set up their own laboratories.