Private hospitals in Uganda are facing financial difficulties because many patients are not paying their medical bills. Unlike government hospitals that receive regular funding, private healthcare providers have been struggling to manage their finances effectively.
The Uganda Healthcare Federation (UHF), an organization representing private healthcare providers, has highlighted the need for a better strategy to ensure that patients pay their medical bills promptly, without causing financial strain for the hospitals. Grace Kiwanuka, the Executive Director of UHF, discussed this issue during an interview with local media.
Kiwanuka mentioned that numerous private hospitals are currently dealing with large amounts of unpaid debt owed by patients, and there is no established system to streamline the repayment process. This concern came to light shortly after a couple took legal action against Roswell, a women and children’s hospital in Kampala. The couple alleged that the hospital had detained their four-month-old baby due to unpaid maternity bills.
In a court appearance, emotions ran high as Saloome Aturinde and Brigders Rogers Mugenyi, the parents of the baby, expressed uncertainty about whether the child they saw in court was indeed theirs. They claimed that the baby had been taken from them at birth.
Kiwanuka explained that such controversies are not isolated incidents. Private hospitals have attempted different strategies, such as requiring patients to make down payments or commitment fees upon admission. However, these measures have proven unfeasible for many patients. Another approach involved providing daily expense updates to admitted patients, but this too has encountered difficulties.
In a statement, Roswell revealed that the baby’s mother, Ms. Aturinde, was presented with a medical bill when the baby was discharged on May 15, 2023. She left the hospital with the intention of returning to settle the bill. Regrettably, neither Ms. Aturinde nor Mr. Mugenyi returned to the hospital, despite several attempts to contact them.
In response, the couple filed a petition through their lawyers, led by Christopher Ocom and Geoffrey Turyamusiima, alleging that the hospital had treated their baby as a commodity, which they found inhuman, cruel, and degrading. They claimed that the hospital had even threatened to sell the baby to Sanyu Babies home and had prevented the baby’s mother from breastfeeding or providing pumped breast milk.
Complaints about patient detentions in private hospitals over unpaid bills are not new. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, such issues were common, with many patients stuck with medical bills they couldn’t afford.
Kiwanuka mentioned that they had previously proposed solutions to the government, including reducing healthcare costs through private-public partnerships and bulk purchases by private providers. However, these proposals have not been implemented to date.