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General News of Thursday, 25 August 2011

Source: Statesman

Crisis in health sector

There is a brewing crisis in Ghana's health sector which could result in a halt in the delivery of health services to Ghanaians if government does not take concrete actions and pragmatic measures to meet the situation and rectify the imbalances in the system so as to forestall an imminent disaster in the sector.

Information available to the New Statesman indicates that pharmacists across several parts of the country are refusing to supply drugs to clients of the National Health Insurance Scheme because they have not been paid for five months.

According to them, the scheme owes them to the tune of several thousands of Ghana cedis, with attempts to collect amounts due proving more difficult than anticipated.

In the Ashanti Region, for instance, just two weeks ago pharmacists were given a paltry payment of 60% payment of just one month out of the five months arrears.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana, the New Statesman has learnt, is planning to take a decision to stop serving NHIS clients all together so as to save their businesses from collapse. The situation is the same in the Western, certain parts of Greater Accra, all of the Central, Eastern and Brong Ahafo Regions.

The non-payment of these pharmacies by the National Health Insurance Authority has locked up capital reducing the capacity of pharmacists to take delivery of drugs, a situation which is crippling their businesses.

This development, together with the non-payment of salaries and allowances of some health workers across the country, represents the deepening crisis in Ghana"s health sector which could eventually culminate in a halt in delivery of health services to Ghanaians.

Health workers in the Volta Region, according to reports monitored by this paper, have not been paid for eight months.

The promise to migrate health workers onto the Single Spine Salary Structure has also not seen the light of day as promised by the Mills-Mahama NDC administration.

On Friday, January 7, 2011, George Smith-Graham, Chief Executive Officer of the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission, promised that staff of the Ghana Health Service and the Civil Service would receive their single spine salaries by March 2011 during which about 90% of public institutions might have been migrated onto the SSSS.

Earlier in July, Mr Smith-Graham further assured, "Our main focus is now on the health civil [sic] service and the tertiary institutions,” adding "we are hoping that [they] will be on [the SSSS] in August.”

In July this year, when the Minister of Finance, Kwabena Duffuor, presented his supplementary budget to Parliament, only GH¢177.6 million was allocated for salaries and wages, out of the GH¢1.46 billion additional spending he presented to Parliament. This increased the pay budget for 2011 to GH¢3.91bn.

This increment as was revealed does not even take care of existing salary arrears, let alone take care of the migration of one of the largest public sector employees, health workers.

This makes it highly improbable for the Single Spine Salary Structure to be extended to the 68,000 health workers of Ghana this year, despite repeated assurances from President JEA Mills and Mr Smith-Graham.

The 2011 budget for salaries and wages, which was a meagre increase from 2010, fell far short of meeting the migration of the nation's 250,000 teachers. Teachers have outstanding arrears which the boss of the FWSC had promised to settle in September, in anticipation of the supplementary budget.

But, according to a document prepared by the Ministry of Finance and titled "The Ghana 2011 Budget Strategic Paper”, which has been sighted by the New Statesman, Government knew the cost of implementing the single spine system this year would set it back GH¢5.3bn. Yet, it made budgetary provisions of merely GH¢3.7bn for total emoluments when the budget was read last November.