In an effort to spruce up its image and make hospitals customer-friendly, the Ministry of Health is training its officers in customer care and public relations. Presenting her budget proposals to parliament’s committee of supply, Health Minister Lesego Motsumi said in the 2008/09 financial year, a total of 1200 officers from various units were trained in customer care.
From extremely severe torture-chamber tactics applied on patients at the Lobatse Mental Hospital, to nurses playing card games while patients writhe in pain unattended, to a doctor at the Mahalapye Hospital threatening to “beat to death” a visitor accompanying his sickly grandfather, there has not been a shortage of allegations about unethical conduct by some health professionals working at government health facilities.
The issue of this negative attitude became the subject of an NDP 10 stakeholder conference that was held in Gaborone last year.
Two district commissioners suggested that as Botswana enters its next national planning cycle, a substantive policy response should be put in place to tackle the epidemic of unprofessional conduct displayed especially by government nurses.
“If you visit a hospital, you go back home a sick person. As we go into NDP 10, there has to be a policy of how we deal with nurses’ lack of professionalism. Not all nurses display such conduct but there is urgent need to address the attitude of those with bad conduct. Nowadays, most people prefer to go private doctors because when they get there they are welcomed with a smile,” said Tlale Setumo, the Chobe District Commissioner.
The North-West District Commissioner, Bernadette Malala, complained that today’s nurses are not as caring and compassionate as yesteryear’s.
“Unless it’s a relative of theirs, you will never see them bathe or feed feeble patients as used to happen in the past. I know of a case where a gravely ill patient at a government hospital fell and cut himself but no nurse wanted to wipe the blood off his face,” Malala said.
Motsumi told parliament that her ministry is developing a communication strategy to strengthen its ability to provide a courteous service.
“We cannot talk of compassion and care in the absence of botho and positive attitude towards our customers,” the minister said.
Motsumi’s speech did not indicate the success level of the PR training but what one of her directors said at the stakeholder conference late last year is quite revealing.
The director of policy planning, monitoring and evaluation, Ontlametse Mokopakgosi, told delegates from North-West and Chobe that although PR training was being provided, it was obviously having very little impact.
“Bear in mind that today’s generation is different from the one that came before it. No matter what you do, the problem does not go away. We probably need to pray for help from above. We have conducted a customer service survey and one of the major concerns that were raised was about [nurses’] attitude. We are trying to tackle the problem but the task is not easy. In the past, people went into nursing for the love of the job; nowadays they just want to make a living,” Mokopakgosi said.