University of Ghana Medical Centre: Still born? - My Take

BY: Andrew Kaminta

The current brouhaha over the University of Ghana Medical School is mainly because of money. Money  because the Ministry of Health and the University of Ghana are looking at the medical centre as a possible cash-cow.

Which , in itself , is not a bad idea except that it would have defeated the principal purpose for which that entire piece of land on the Legon campus was set aside in the first place.

Background

Every medical school requires a teaching hospital to be able to train medical doctors. After about three years of the basic sciences which include anatomy, physiology, biochemistry , pharmacology, microbiology, pathology etc, another three or four years are required for clinical training during which the basic sciences are more or less applied to real patient care.

I don’t know the details but it appears our first President, the venerable Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, was in such a hurry to establish a medical school that he decided to use the biggest existing hospital, Korle bu, to start this massive project.

Meanwhile, Nkrumah still had his eye on the bigger project which was to have the complete medical school setup on the Legon campus. In short, the use of  Korle bu was only supposed to be temporary.

Towards achieving this ultimate goal, that massive piece of land where the current medical centre is sited was reserved and so it remained for years waiting for the day it would eventually see the light of day. The only medical facility was the Noguchi Memorial Institute.

As we all know, this dream of Nkrumah never happened. And as usual, everyone relaxed. Because after all, Korle bu was available and serving the purpose of a teaching hospital, when in fact, it wasn’t supposed to be.

And as most doctors who passed through Korle bu would remember, this created perpetual conflict between lecturers of the medical school and the other staff of the hospital who are essentially employees of the ministry of health. This became apparent prior to the implementation of the single-spine salary structure when the ministry of health doctors earned far more than ‘their lecturers’.

This situation equally applies to the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital(KATH) and the Tamale Teaching Hospital(TTH).

When some very enterprising individuals in the ministry of health, especially Mr Rojo Mettle Nunoo, managed to convince the government at the time to source a loan from the Israelis for this project, some of us finally heaved a sigh of relief. After all, Nkrumah’s master plan was finally being implemented.

However, when later I started hearing rumours about a University of Ghana Medical Centre that was going to provide super specialist services for profit, I told a few close friends that there was going to be a big problem and that the project would be stillborn.

Why did I think so?  Look at it this way.The government has through the ministry of health taken a loan to build a teaching hospital.The government is going to pay for the loan from other resources and yet this same medical centre has been redesigned to operate for profit. Who benefits from the earnings?The ministry of health would definitely feel that being the securers of the loan, they should own the project and for that matter, the earnings.

On the other hand, if the original vision of Nkrumah had been followed, this facility would be solely for training doctors. Profit making should be secondary.

Governments must know that establishing medical schools includes providing them with their own teaching hospitals. If that principle was followed, all those lecturers in Korle bu would infact be on Legon campus and so would all the medical students. In that way,the KBTH,the KATH and the TTH playing host as teaching hospitals would remain the sole property of the Ministry of Health (MOH) and all the friction would be avoided.

Best practices

We don’t have to go far to learn best practices.

In Nigeria, every state has a government university medical school and each of them has a teaching hospital within the university campus whenever possible. In this way, the lecturers have their roles defined for them.

Way forward

The solution is simple. The facility must be owned by the University of Ghana but it must be a solely teaching hospital, first and foremost. The commercialisation aspect can come later. The current problem is because the commercial aspect has been projected ahead of its core mandate as a teaching hospital.

While we are at this, the government should start thinking about building teaching hospitals for the other medical schools so that the current borrowed teaching hospitals can revert to being national and regional hospitals owned and run by the ministry of health, unless we want to continue training our medical professionals abroad.