HEDA Tasks Buhari, NMA On Multibillion Medical Kickback Scam 

Yemisi Izuora

President Mohammadu Buhari and the Nigerian Medical Association, (NMA) have been tasked on the multi-billion Naira fraud linked to public and private health sector.

The crime syndicate is said to be controlled by health officials including medical doctors and selected hospitals across the country.

In the fraudulent scheme, Doctors ask patients to conduct tests unrelated to their ailments marked by referral letters for the purpose of corrupt enrichment.

The Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre) opened up the new flank in its impressive anti corruption campaign on Sunday when the leading anti-corruption group beamed its searchlight on the health sector.

In a petition addressed to the Nigerian President Buhari and the NMA, and signed by its Chairman Mr Olanrewaju Suraju, HEDA wants an immediate probe of medical doctors, health workers, laboratories and hospitals associated with the large scale crime.

“This is an important threshold. Corruption in the health sector has direct impact on human lives. This is a scam that if unchecked will worsen the fatality rate in Nigerian hospitals. It’s a kind of corruption that is almost akin to sucking the blood of fellow human beings by those expected to save human lives” HEDA said.

The petition was informed by media reports that revealed  a criminal, multi-billion Naira fee-splitting, cut or rebate scheme in the healthcare sector in which medical laboratories hike the cost of medical tests by between 20 to 35 percent which is later paid to the referring doctors or hospitals thereby defrauding patients, private and public institutions through a well organised cartel.

The report had stated that doctors and hospitals set up unsuspecting customers for medical diagnosis at laboratories they recommend to which doctors prescribe tests that patients do not need just for kickbacks.

An undercover reporter from PremiumTimes blew the lid after 20 months of painstaking probe, posing as a patient.

The reporter discovered people are refered to do several medical tests in at least nine of the country’s biggest medical laboratories using referral forms obtained from sales representatives of the diagnostic laboratories.

Affected Medical laboratories allegedly involved in the kickback  are Me Cure Healthcare, Echolab, Afriglobal, VCare Diagnostics, Vedic Lifecare Hospital, Clinix Healthcare, Union Diagnostics and SYNLAB

Suraju said the rebate or referral scam  is appalling and should be visited with immediate sanction.

“The medical profession is a noble profession; the profession is being dented with this outrageous line of behaviour. According to the report, the rebate or cut scheme has remained entrenched in the healthcare sector, swindling patients of wads of Naira every year, in blatant disregards of the ethical concern and the criminal implication of the illicit practice,” Suraju said.

The anti- corruption group state that the Rules of the Professional Conduct for Medical Laboratory Scientist, Laboratory Technicians and Laboratory Assistants (2018) prohibits deceit and extortion of patients adding that the rule relays that practitioners can be sentenced up to five years in prison if found guilty.

HEDA cited Section 17 of the Rules which states that “Any practitioner who extorts or engage in any act found to be incompatible with the ethics of practice of medical laboratory science with the purpose of extorting from the patient shall be in breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct and shall be guilty of malpractice.”

“Any practitioner in breach of sub-rule (1) of this rule shall also be presumed to have contravened the relevant section of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act in force and may be guilty of an offence of using his office or position for gratification and shall on conviction be liable to a fine of N100,000.00 or imprisonment for five (5) years for the purpose of these rules or both.”

Similarly, the group refers to Section 33 of the Code of Medical Ethics of Nigeria which forbids doctors from deceiving their patients with the aim of extorting them.

The section further emphasised that any practitioner “who keeps a patient in the hospital as an in-patient when it is not necessary or longer than is necessary for good care, or who undertakes to carry out any form of ‘ghost’ procedure including ‘ghost’ and unnecessary investigations, for the sole purpose of increasing his earnings from the patient breaches the Code of Ethics and shall be guilty of malpractice.”

It also refers to Section 36 of the code which explicitly forbids the physicians from accepting kickbacks from laboratories, chemists and others.

Other sections violated by the criminal act are, Section 65 of the Code which specifically prohibits medical practitioners from soliciting for “unwholesome transactions” such as “arrangement for fee-splitting, which is the practice by the managing practitioner of returning a part of the fee paid by the patient to the referring practitioner, or a third party, with or without the patient’s knowledge,” among other improper financial gratifications. The section of the code added that the “practice constitutes a threat to the best care of the patient because practitioners would tend to refer patients not to the practitioner with the best facility or skill demanded by the patient’s condition, but to another practitioner who is ready to pay the highest return.

Right to life is fundamental for every citizen; acts of this nature can be tantamount to the deprivation of the right to life and healthcare.

HEDA said healthcare ought to be affordable, however, devious schemes like these that involve the outrageous inflation of services related to healthcare can lead to loss of several lives.

“This is corruption beyond words and should be curbed with all sense of vigilance and appropriate sanction” HEDA said.

The group demanded for investigation to be carried out into the  allegations against the listed medical centres and hospitals with the aim of uncovering, penalizing and ridding the medical space of corruption.

“It is about sanctity and protection of lives” HEDA said

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