Monday July 15, 2024

Islamabad’s underutilised public health facilities drain Rs1bn annually: survey

These facilities comprise around 50 basic and rural health centres managed by the District Health Officer (DHO) Islamabad

By M Waqar Bhatti
April 06, 2024
A representational image showing an inside view of a hospital ward. — AFP/File
A representational image showing an inside view of a hospital ward. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Approximately Rs 1 billion is annually spent on 90 public health facilities, including Basic Health Units (BHUs), Rural Health Units (RHUs), Community Health Centers (CHCs), and dispensaries, most of which are non-functional or extremely underutilized.

These facilities comprise around 50 basic and rural health centres managed by the District Health Officer (DHO) Islamabad, 30 dispensaries operated by the Federal Government Polyclinic, and 13 dispensaries overseen by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) Islamabad, officials in the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination (NHS, R&C) told The News on Friday.

“Despite the presence of a network of around 90 health facilities across Islamabad, which consume around Rs 1 billion annually, the majority of patients in Islamabad, as well as surrounding areas, visit Pakistan Institute of Medical Science (PIMS), Polyclinic, Federal Government Hospital (FGH) Chak Shahzad, which are extremely overburdened and unable to provide quality health services to such a large population,” an NHS official claimed.

Referring to a recent survey conducted by the health ministry, the health department official said all these 90 health facilities, including health centres and dispensaries, close at 1 pm, compelling patients from different far-flung areas to rush either to PIMS or Polyclinic. “Even when these health facilities are open in the first half of the day, they lack basic facilities including electricity and water while often medicines, diagnostic facilities, and other necessities are not available at these health centres,” the official claimed to cite the ministry’s survey.

Citing the survey, the health department official said some of the dispensaries of the Federal Government Polyclinic were functioning at places where common people had no access, including the Parliament House, President House, Judges’ Colony, and other government installations, which largely remain underutilized. On the other hand, hundreds of people seeking emergency treatment in case of heart attacks, accidents, trauma, pediatric emergencies, gynaecological issues, burning incidents, and other emergencies rush to PIMS and Polyclinic, the official said adding that both these health facilities were extremely overburdened as most of the poor patients could not afford to visit private health facilities in the capital. “Around 200 people with accidents and trauma are brought to the emergency of the PIMS while the same is the situation at Federal Government Polyclinic. People who attempt suicide, cases of homicide, and occupational injuries are also brought to these two health facilities, making them almost unworkable,” he added.

The survey found that there was only one cath lab in the public sector, which remains overwhelmed due to the high flow of patients these days, people as young as 25-35 years of age were having heart attacks and strokes due to the high incidence of diabetes and hypertension in Pakistan. “There are 11 cath labs in the capital Islamabad and of them, only one is in the public sector where most of the patients are brought in case of heart attacks. The majority of people with heart attacks are rushed to PIMS as they could not afford to pay hundreds of thousands of rupees to the private sector for angioplasty,” the official added.

Similarly, the pediatric health facility at PIMS is also overwhelmed with patients despite a public-private partnership model when the Child Aid Foundation was assisting the authorities in running the pediatric emergency, the official said adding that the same was the situation of gynecology wards at PIMS and Polyclinic.

Responding to the situation, federal health secretary Iftikhar Shallwani said given the growing burden over tertiary care health facilities in Islamabad, they have constituted a six-member committee to assess the current state and capacities of Rural Health Centers (RHCs) as well as identify the gaps in emergency and OPD services in Islamabad. “The committee has also been tasked to develop a comprehensive plan for 24-hour emergency coverage initially by utilizing RHCs. These centres will act as satellite centres for PIMS hospital for emergency and OPD care,” Shallwani added.

The committee comprising senior joint secretary hospitals, Chief Operating Officer (CEO) of Islamabad Health Regulatory Authority (IHRA), Executive Director PIMS, DHO Islamabad, CEO Sehat Sahulat Program, and Senior Medical Incharge of Tarlai RHC would also evaluate the feasibility of a public-private partnership model to run RHCs and BHUs to provide better emergency and OPD services, he informed.

Following the ministry’s directives, the PIMS administration decided to start evening OPD service from 3 to 6 PM daily from April 15, 2024.