Mental health service is gradually eroding in Nigeria with the country among the least countries investing in quality mental health service delivery in the world.
According to 2016 data from the World Health Organisation, Nigeria was un-ranked in the list of countries with a ratio of psychiatrist per people.
Finding by SaharaReporters at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, revealed that too much administrative influence is hugely contributing to the substandard delivery of mental health service in the hospital.
The lack of policy in place for annual recruitment of resident doctors was highlighted to be the major reason for the shortage of medical personnel in the hospital.
The Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, is a 535-bed hospital with Branches in Yaba and Oshodi (plus a recently commissioned one in Badore, Ajah but it is not fully operational) but operations are going at less than 10 percent as there exist acute shortage of staff or equipment.
According to the Association of Psychologist in Nigeria, Nigeria health system has only 250 psychiatrists and 200 psychiatrist-trainees. The number is ridiculously small and cannot cater for the growing mentally ill Nigerians.
Data from the Federal Ministry of Health shows that about 30% of Nigerians suffer from mental illness adding that three of every 10 Nigerians suffer mental illness.
However, the Lagos Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital has less than 33 doctors and 23 consultants attending to over 1,000 patients weekly.
A source at the hospital that spoke with SaharaReporters said, “The facility has one of the best facilities and cheap treatment in Nigeria, so everyone from different part of the country comes here.
“It is the only facility with a Children and Adolescent Centre in the whole of Nigeria. The main facility runs three clinic days and the Child and Adolescent Centre has two clinic days.
“The facility has an average of 1000 cases every week, this means one doctor attends to 50 patients, and time spent on each patient is less than 30 minutes which is the normal time. Because of the shortage of hands, clinics that are supposed to run from 9 am to 2 pm run till 6 pm sometimes.
“Patients are denied quality treatment because the doctors are overwhelmed and have to save time with patients to be able to cover a lot of ground. Resident doctors request more hands have been met with deaf ears by the officials as they seem to protect the status quo.”
It was further stated that doctors were overstretched due to the shortage of personnel adding that the government has deliberately refused to employ more doctors despite efforts by the management and staff to increase the number of medical personnel.
Another doctor who lamented the shortage of medical personnel at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, said recruitment of doctors is decided by the federal government and the personal sentiment is being inputted to the recruitment process.
“There has been no major employment of doctors since 2014 even as more doctors are resigning and leaving the sector. Of the 67 resident doctors in the hospital in 2014, now we have only 33 doctors on the ground,” a doctor said.
The doctor continued, “The hospital management needs the government to approve the employment. The process must pass through the office of the permanent secretary, the federal character to federal service commission, budget office and they all influence who and how many doctors are recruited and sent to the hospital.”
Another doctor claimed that the shortage of personnel has also affected the resident doctors as many of them could not go for promotional examination and advance courses.
The doctor said, “This has been going on for a very long time and doctors are finding it hard to meet up with the requirements for exams. No Time to go for update courses.
“Professional exam must be done and these examinations must be passed at a specific time.
“Doctors are failing their professional exams and having to stay longer in the hospital before they get certified. If you do not pass your exams within your limited amount of time, you are thrown away and you have to go and look for what to do if you do not become a consultant at the end of the day.”
According to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), there are 72,000 doctors registered in the country as over half practise outside the country.
A survey by NOIPoll revealed that nine in every 10 doctors are considering work opportunities outside Nigeria.
Doctors at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba are also included in the brain drain figure affecting the health sector. This number has continued to rise with no solution seen in the nearest future.
Mrs. Philomena Omoike, the spokesperson for the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, refused to comment on the mode of employment used in recruiting doctors at the hospital and why there are very few doctors currently working in the hospital.
When contacted, she initially asked to be called later.
Omoike has not picked calls made to her telephone afterward.