Our healthcare system is crumbling.

With health workers grabbing the attention of policy makers, we have overlooked the quality of health infrastructure in the country.

New hospitals are reporting cracks in the walls and ceiling. Tsirang hospital was involved in a controversy when it was still under construction. The mother and child hospital was even ahead with contractors crying foul over the tendering process. The country’s only MRI machine at the national referral hospital is yet to be resuscitated. Gelephu hospital is in the news more for its broken machines and cracked ceiling and walls than for its healthcare services. When parts of its ceiling dropped soon after its inaugural, the CT machine, which is again broken was allegedly damaged.  Seven months into its opening, cracks developed on its walls. Today, parts of the ceilings are falling off and health workers are placing buckets under leaks near the patient beds.

This is happening at a time when the heath sector is already grappling with high number of health workers leaving the profession. It is occurring at a time when plans are underway to build more hospitals and merge the referral centres.  Efforts to expand accessibility to healthcare centres and reach have come at a cost of quality.

Having specialists and trained health professionals is not enough to provide quality healthcare. The facilities they work in and the equipment they are provided with are as critical. We have seen how lack of medical equipment has deterred doctors and specialists from going on transfers. Some chose to remain at the national referral hospital while some chose to take all the equipment with them to their new place of posting.

We have health professionals at the helm of governance today, a government that campaigned on healthcare and one that is more aware of the problems hindering the delivery of health services than the rest of the population.  While attempts may be underway to reform the health sector, there have been no visible actions.  Lack of budget is cited to justify inaction. Paying clinical professionals large allowances is not enough if they are not provided with the tools and required infrastructure to practice.

The quality of health workers is as critical as the quality of a hospital, touted a place of healing.  The state of our health care facilities is now posing risks to ailing patients.  The tragic death of neonates reported at the NICU is a crude reminder of the lapses in maintaining quality healthcare.

When we talk about quality in healthcare, it usually means safety, effectiveness, and positive patient experience. Despite challenges, these aspects of healthcare exist and there is a high level of trust in the health system. For a country that puts the well-being of its people first, we should be doing more. What we are seeing is the complacency to treat the problems that are contributing to the health sector’s challenges.

Our policy makers harp the rhetoric of nation building and change when we are not even able to ensure the quality of a school, a road, or a hospital.