After a PREMIUM TIMES investigation exposing a multi-billion-naira medical referral kickback scam in the Nigerian health sector, an anti-corruption group, the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) to probe the hospitals, physicians, and diagnostic centres involved in the scam.
PREMIUM TIMES’ 20-month investigation revealed how Nigerians, about 90 per cent of whom pay for medical bills out of pocket, are swindled by doctors, hospitals, and diagnostic centres.
Using a reporter who posed as a doctor, this newspaper was able to reveal that doctors are paid a cut of 20 per cent for every referral they make to diagnostic centres, a practice that does not only negate the code of medical practice in the country but is criminalised by extant regulations, such as the Rules of the Professional Conduct for Medical Laboratory Scientist, Laboratory Technicians and Laboratory Assistants (2018), and can carry a jail term of up to five years.
PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation also revealed that some of the biggest diagnostic centres in the country such as Me Cure, Afriglobal, Union Diagnostics, and Clinix are involved in this entrenched referral kickback scam.
In a statement on Sunday by HEDA’s chairperson, Olanrewaju Suraju, the group called on Mr Buhari and the NMA, to investigate the scam which it said directly impact the lives of Nigerians.
“This is an important threshold. Corruption in the health sector has a direct impact on human lives. This is a scam that if unchecked will worsen the fatality rate in Nigerian hospitals. It’s a kind of corruption that is almost akin to sucking the blood of fellow human beings by those expected to save human lives,” HEDA said.
“The petition was informed by media reports that revealed a criminal, multi-billion naira fee-splitting, cut or rebate scheme in the healthcare sector in which medical laboratories hike the cost of medical tests by between 20 to 35 percent, which is later paid to the referring doctors or hospitals thereby defrauding patients, private and public institutions through a well-organised cartel,” the statement said, making reference to the findings of PREMIUM TIMES investigation.
“The medical profession is a noble profession; the profession is being dented with this outrageous line of behaviour. According to the report, the rebate or cut scheme has remained entrenched in the healthcare sector, swindling patients of wads of naira every year, in blatant disregard of the ethical concern and the criminal implication of the illicit practice,” Mr Suraju said.
HEDA said this fraudulent scheme by medical practitioners makes healthcare more expensive and can lead to loss of lives.
“This is corruption beyond words and should be curbed with all sense of vigilance and appropriate sanction” HEDA said.
“It is about sanctity and protection of lives” HEDA said.
Since the story was published and amidst outrage by many Nigerians, the Nigerian government has not investigated the scandal nor promised to do so.