Ministry of Health on the spot over 'missing' ambulances

The management of Mbale Regional Referral hospital has denied claims by ministry of Health officials that it was given 8 ambulances and Shs 272 million to help in the Covid-19 fight.  

Appearing before MPs last week, ministry of Health officials led by minister Jane Ruth Aceng and permanent secretary Dr Diana Atwine told MPs that 8 ambulances had been dispatched to Mbale hospital in eastern Uganda to serve the region.  

However, the hospital director, Dr Emmanuel Tugaineyo informed the Covid-19 parliamentary committee led by Dr Patrick Mutono (Butebo County) how they are struggling to manage Covid-19 cases in the entire region with only two ambulances. 

Mutono said this can't be true because the ministry told MPs that they previously delivered 8 ambulances to Mbale hospital to support the management of Covid-19 cases. But Dr Tugaineyo insisted that they only have two ambulances at the hospital, which they are even finding hard to manage due to lack of money for fuel. Dr. Mutono tasked the hospital management to establish where the six other ambulances meant for the hospital are.

"The ministry of Health told us they had given ambulances but everywhere we go, they are asking us where are the ambulances, they don't see them. So we're waiting for a report from them and then we can show the ministry of Health because like Mbale Regional hospital, I think they said they have two or something and that is to cover the entire region. And then they have no fuel for these ambulances, maintenance of these ambulances is an issue and the ICU nurses are attributing to the very sick patients coming in because of lack of ambulances, lack of ambulances and the patients are poor they don't have money," said Mutono. 

Timothy Batuwa, the Jinja West MP, read out the number plates of the ambulances as submitted by the ministry of Health, saying they were meant to station at Mbale hospital each serving different areas within the region.

"...488N Mbale City that is supposed to be with Mbale hospital, the second one is UG 6748M that is supposed to be with Mbale regional referral hospital, the third one is UG 6740M is supposed to be with Mbale hospital serving Bugonkho south Mbale district. The 4th is UG 6806M supposed to be with Mbale regional hospital serving Mbale city, the fifth one is UG 6834M is supposed to be with Mbale hospital serving Manjiya and Bududa district. The sixth one is UG 6835M serving Namisindwa and Bubulo. The seventh one; UG 6860M is supposed to be in Budaka district but stationed here Mbale regional referral hospital, the eighth UG 6861 this one is for Bukedi region," Batuwa read out the list. 

On the issue of fuel, Mutono said the ministry informed MPs that hospitals receive Shs 980,000 per day (totaling Shs 272 million) to facilitate the ambulances. Karim Masaba, Mbale Industrial City Division MP said the committee will ask the Health minister to explain the whereabouts of the ambulances and the money allocated to facilitate their maintenance. 

Dr Tugaineyo promised to follow up on the other ambulances since he was not aware that the hospital was given eight of them.

“I am hearing it from here that we have eight ambulances, I will make a follow-up to understand where these ambulances are,” he said.

The MPs on a field visit to Mbale hospital

In a statement issued later on Wednesday evening, the ministry of Health said Mbale hospital had received only 7 ambulances and not 8 ambulances as of June 2021.

"Mbale Regional Referral hospital coordinates ambulances in the 17 local governments in the region (16 districts & 1 city). A total of 7 ambulances were allocated to the region and placed in different districts in May/June 2021. The 8th ambulance for Budaka HCIV (Budaka district) has just been allocated from those at the center. Due to the overwhelming number of cases in the second wave in Kampala Metropolitan Area, the handover of the ambulance was postponed until the situation is under control."

On the alleged Shs 980,000 paid daily to maintain and facilitate the ambulances, the ministry said the ministry officials were quoted out of context by the MPs because the response was on what it would take to run ambulances upcountry. 

"The quote from the Covid-19 parliamentary committee visit at Mbale hospital on the amount of money allocated per ambulance daily was based on the response that the MOH made on “what it takes to run one ambulance in Kampala and whether this can be replicated across the country.""

Adding: From the cost of offering an ambulance service in Kampala Metropolitan Area at the peak of the current wave, one ambulance uses approximately UGX 980,000 daily. This cost includes: fuel (80 liters), risk allowances for two medical personnel, decontamination of the vehicle, personal protective equipment (PPEs), oxygen cylinders, essential medicines, vehicle service, repair and maintenance. On average, each ambulance transports 5 patients giving an average cost of UGX 196,000 per patient," reads the statement. 

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