Milking the sick

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National referral hospital probes doctor, reports of malpractice rife in NRH surface

By Alfred Sasako

(in Hong Kong)

NOT so often that one hears about a hospital putting one of its top surgeons under the microscope.

That is what is happening at the National Referral Hospital, where its heavies are preparing to launch a formal investigation into a case involving top Orthopaedic Surgeon, Dr Patrick Houasia, for billing a seaman more than $9,000 for treatment he received at the NRH last month.

Island Sun was told the seaman almost lost a little toe on his foot in an accident, which occurred in a tug boat during a journey from Malaysia to Honiara in August this year.

On his arrival in Honiara, the seaman was sent to the National Referral Hospital where Dr Houasia and his team, amputated the finger.

Everything went according to what the doctor had ordered until the seaman’s employer, received a medical bill for the operation and the treatment. The hierarchy of the hospital and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services were shocked when the employer raised the payment “for clarification”.

“Should I be paying this? I have always thought the National Referral Hospital is a public hospital,” the employer queried.

“I don’t mind paying the bill if it was from the doctor’s private practice. But in this case it is not,” the employer said.

Island Sun has obtained a copy of the invoice for the bill dated August 25, 2017. It was for a hefty $9,150 (Nine thousand one hundred and fifty dollars), which the employer has paid.

The invoice itemised the charges as:

Consultation                                                   –                 750

Surgery Traumatic Amputation and         –                 4, 500

Surgery 2nd Wound closure                       –                 3, 400

Medical Reports                                            –                    500

TOTAL                                                                               $9,150

According to documents obtained by Island Sun, the full amount was paid on August 31, 2017 in a Pan Oceanic Bank (POB) cheque (Cheque No. 218960).

“This is just unacceptable,” NRH’s Dr Rooney Jagilly said at the weekend.

Dr Rooney said the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services Dr Dalipada and the Hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Steve Aumanu “are aware now (of the matter)and this just has to be formally investigated.”

The case involving Orthopaedic Surgeon Houasia billing the patient is not necessarily the first.

Doctors embalming bodies at the NRH Morgue for burial, for example are known to have billed relatives of the deceased.

Chemicals used in the preservation of the bodies are from the National Referral Hospital’s Pharmacy.

Island Sun was told that depending on the status of the deceased, bills can be as high as $25,000 per death.

Where the payment ends up is the question. At this point, it is anyone’s guess.

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