Health Bill Bad News for the Poor

MINISTER of Defence Nahas Angula said the proposed National Health Bill is discriminatory and targets poor people who mostly use public health facilities.

Angula was speaking during the debate on the proposed clause that protects State medical personnel, who might have caused the death of a patient, from legal action.

The clause in question (Section 58 of the Bill) that was tabled in parliament three weeks ago deals with indemnity and states that a minister, the permanent secretary and any staff member of the ministry is not liable for “anything done or omitted to be done in good faith in the exercise of a power or the performance of a duty or function under this Act”.

Angula said, in reality what will happen is that patients would prefer going to private hospitals because they know that if something goes wrong, they have the courts to turn to for redress.

“It means that only poor people will be subjected to the situation where they are not protected because they cannot afford lawyers and private hospitals but are forced to go to hospitals run by State officials who are indemnified,” Angula remarked during the debate on the bill in the National Assembly last week.

He described section 58 as problematic.

“The problem is the blanket indemnity given to people working for the State. If you can qualify the indemnity to say it will apply in instances of emergency then we will not have a problem because you are working under difficult circumstances,” Angula said.

According to him, a bill should be of general applicability and should not discriminate. “Now this one [bill] is indemnifying State workers, what about private workers? The bill is discriminatory,” he said.

Minisiter of Justice Utoni Nujoma suggested that the bill should be edited to address the concerns by adding words such as “indemnity is applicable unless gross negligence or malicious intention is proven”.

The Minister of Health and Social Services, Richard Kamwi, admitted in his response to the presidential commission of inquiry released last year that he was concerned about the lack of accountability, ethics, professionalism and values in the public health sector to ensure that “each citizen receives the highest possible level of health care available and is treated with dignity”.

Swanu parliamentarian Usutuaije Maamberua read part of the report in the National Assembly which made Kamwi to admit that there was lack of ethics and it would be absurd that a bill protecting such health officials is passed.

Maamberua also asked why the health ministry is the only one with such a clause while other ministries are not being protected.

Kamwi, who is yet to respond to the questions raised by the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Nickey Iyambo, told The Namibian two weeks ago that the clause protects health officials from prosecution but the decision on whether a person will be prosecuted or not is made after an investigation, which determines whether the health official in question did his or her work in good faith or not.

He claimed he was surprised at the outcry, because the clause was an international norm not new to Namibia since the country has been using a South African law that carries the same clause since independence.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Calle Schlettwein, questioned the intention of the bill that also seeks to allow government to take over private hospitals and health services.

“If we have a provision in the bill that gives the minister the power under public interest to take over these facilities, I would understand it if the public interest is narrowed to public health interest but not a general public interest that can include financial interest or economic interest or other interest,” he said.

Source : The Namibian