Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Bridging gaps in accessing quality healthcare services | The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News … – Guardian Nigeria


Taiwo Olatunji
Dr. Taiwo Olatunji is the Founder and Medical Director of Millennium Health Focus (MHF). Olatunji in this interview with The Guardian urged for more investment in Nigeria’s health sector and decried the challenges faced by Nigerian students in the United Kingdom (U.K.) and other European countries in accessing healthcare. He also enumerated how Bespoke Healthcare for International Students (BHIS), a product of MHF, is bridging gaps in accessing quality healthcare services. ENIOLA DANIEL writes.
What drew you to work in health supply chains?
I genuinely love solving problems, particularly those that involve improving the lives of others. I routinely look at ways of improving healthcare systems both in terms of efficiency and productivity. My experience of health inequality is what drives me to continuously seek to improve healthcare access.
What informed the establishment of BHIS?
We developed a patient management system designed to improve access to patient records for parents. This system was built on the back of our understanding of parents’ need to access their child’s health record at will and knowing that the peace of mind we promise through BHIS can only be achieved when we provide a transparent health electronic record. We also added a communication module to the platform that allows two-way communication between students/parents and their MHF clinical/ admin staff. This innovative platform improves health access and patient outcomes.
I consider myself a dynamic, multi-faceted and self-motivated individual who is committed to personal and professional growth. I am passionate about providing strategies and solutions to challenging problems whilst taking care of others. I take pride in my ability to inspire and motivate others to be their best selves and achieve their full potential. I like to foster an environment where colleagues and friends are encouraged to take on new challenges to exceed their own expectations. 
I was born to working-class Nigerian parents who married in England and raised four children. I am the youngest of four and a twin. I attended Government College, Eric-More, Lagos, sat for my GCE a year early and re-joined my family in London where I completed secondary school, college and university. I have my first degree in Biochemistry followed by a second degree in Medicine, then trained as a GP with specialist interest in Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgery.
I have been a doctor for over 10 years. I previously worked as a research scientist in Oncology and later worked in the pharmaceutical industry initially with Merck Sharp and Dohme, then later for AstraZeneca.
How was the BHIS idea birthed?
It was a natural evolution following founding the first Afro-centric Medical Concierge Company in the UK called MHF. MHF is a private healthcare company that looks after all health and related affairs of high net-worth individuals, predominantly Africans anywhere they need healthcare in the world.
BHIS was born following the challenge a client faced in accessing information about the health status of his daughter who was unwell while in boarding school. The parents’ resident in Nigeria were unable to speak to a doctor or nurse at will, to brief them about their child’s illness.
Many parents whose children study abroad assume the National Health Service (NHS) will provide care when needed, after all, the UK is famed for its high standard of healthcare. Unfortunately, while this is largely true, what many fail to understand is that care is not instant and waiting times to access the free NHS service are getting longer.
Understanding the cultural and personal expectations of parents abroad allows us to be able to fill this unmet need with immense satisfaction from parents. The service caters for students from primary school to postgraduate students.
Is BHIS meeting the purpose for which it was established?
We recognise the unique needs of parents to have timely access to information about their child’s health. Some parents worry about their child’s health and wellbeing because their children are in a country with a different culture, and different health system. Having remote access gives parents peace of mind, knowing that they can access important medical information if and when needed. This reassurance is a key part of why the platform is so greatly lauded.
What are the predominant challenges faced by Nigerian students in the UK and other European countries when trying to access healthcare?
Most international students including Nigerian students are new to British National Health Service (NHS) and unaware of challenges in accessing healthcare including waiting times. To complicate things further, most international students are used to a walk-in private health service back home where a doctor’s appointment can be had either by calling the doctor directly or turning up in clinic.
Most enjoy a personalised service that does not exist in the UK’s NHS. This often leads to students not reporting symptoms or at best reporting them late. In the absence of a health advocate, it is not uncommon that when students seek private healthcare on their own, they end up paying for unnecessary consultations, tests and specialist fees.
Another common challenge is the lack of knowledge about patient rights to their medical notes including test results. Although challenging to access due to the remote location of parents, students can grant parents access (automatic if less than 16 years old).
BHIS solves all these challenges by creating the first-ever bespoke healthcare service for international students which aims to allay parent anxieties by providing a seamless line of communication between parents and their child’s medical team. It uses technology to give round-the-clock access and share medical notes remotely from anywhere.
How do you see the BHIS impacting the Nigerian health system?
We complement existing health providers in Nigeria by working with leading private health providers to ensure continuity of care for students when they return home.
We are also embarking on a medical exchange programme, which seeks to share best medical practices between the UK and Nigeria. We will be sharing more information about this collaborative effort in due course.
What should the new president do to revamp healthcare in Nigeria?
This is an area that I can discuss endlessly. However, suffice to say that the Nigerian healthcare system is faced with significant challenges. Among these is inadequate funding, which in turn has resulted in poor health outcomes for Nigerians. As of 2021, the government allocated about four per cent of the yearly national budget to healthcare. This is significantly lower than the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended benchmark of a minimum of 15 per cent of national budget for healthcare expenditure. The government should allocate a larger percentage of the national budget to healthcare and explore alternative sources of funding, such as public-private partnerships. The latter is an area that is under-utilised in this country, and I believe more should be done to encourage private investment in the health sector.
As part of this increased health funding, money should be spent in primary care, which is the bedrock of any healthcare system. Family medicine consultants/General Practitioners hold the key to disease prevention, and we need more people to enter into this specialty but this is not possible without organised, well-funded and well-resourced primary care centres tasked with tackling chronic diseases and championing healthy living. I will advocate these centres to be adequately equipped to manage certain emergencies like asthma, minor injuries and minor infections before they become life-threatening conditions.
Like many others, I am also concerned about the dire shortage of anaesthetists and intensivists in Nigeria. As highlighted during the COVID-19 outbreak, needless lives were lost due to in part, the chronic shortage of intensive care beds. We need the government to address this issue. This is a matter of training and equipment. If you have a serious accident on any Nigerian road, it is highly likely, regardless of wealth or status, that the accident will be fatal even on hospital attendance. This is one area where there is little difference in private or government hospital in terms of care and outcomes.
As a practitioner, what should be done to stem medical tourism and brain drain in the sector?
Let me first tackle brain drain. Although this exists in the IT and finance industry too, I will focus on the health sector. Why are doctors leaving Nigeria shores for countries like the UK, US, Australia and the Middle East? The easy answer is for a better life, better pay and security. However, for medical professionals, it is a little more complex. Doctors leave for the reasons in addition to poor work tools, inadequate working environment, stifled professional development, feeling unappreciated together with poor industry regulation. Any of these factors could cause mass exit. In the UK, doctors leave due to poor working conditions (both pay and working hours) regardless of the excellent facilities and training on offer.
Medical tourism is the resultant migration of citizens of a country in search of better healthcare abroad despite the often-increased cost of doing so. It is the net effect of underinvestment in a country’s health system. If our private and public institutions were all of international standards and the public feel confident using them, it is obvious that less people would seek care abroad. First invest, then promote what you have so that people can use and testify to its excellence in delivering care.
How can the governments ensure robust public health systems and access to healthcare?
Again, by increasing healthcare spending. There is no getting away from this. There is no civilised healthcare system in the world where private health system performs the function of the national health service. The government needs to invest more in its workforce to reverse the brain drain. As alluded earlier, this needs to be more than just money but also about improving working conditions and facilities all round. Doctors need to feel that their training is being utilised and they are working with equipment that is on par with their colleagues globally. They want to feel that they are well equipped to do the best for their patients. No matter where you practice, the call to this vocation is universally similar. Creating policies that supports public-private partnerships would help ensure these objectives are achieved.
Finally, I am a great advocate for regulatory systems being put in place. Physicians need to be made more accountable to their patients and professional bodies. The number of fake or under qualified doctors and clinics in existence is alarming. The stories we hear of fake doctors or surgeons does not help build public confidence in our health institutions.
What differentiates BHIS from other digital healthcare services currently at Nigerians’ disposal?
We are the only UK private health provider seeking to provide a bespoke health solution for international students studying in the UK. The organisation leverages the fact that it has been providing the highest level of personalised healthcare (Concierge Medicine) to high-net-worth individuals for nearly a decade.
We take pride in being the sole provider of healthcare specifically for students in our purpose-built facility in central London with onsite pathology testing, imaging, GP and specialist clinics.
As one of the first-of-its-kind solution for Nigerians, what are your fears and projections in terms of competition and duplications?
We expect duplication and we welcome it. There are too few providers of private healthcare from an African background who own their facilities in the UK and participate in this niche health space.
More providers like MHF are needed to provide the highest level of care to those who call the UK their second home or visit as a medical tourist from Nigeria. Nonetheless, we will always remain the pacesetter. 
Is BHIS only for students in the UK?
Yes. We take on students studying in the UK only.
Is there any partnership between BHIS and other known health insurance services and Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) for international students?
There are ongoing discussions with the main UK health insurance providers but currently none is available.

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