Cash-strapped public hospitals have resolved to attach the property of patients who fail to pay hospital fees as a way of recovering the millions of dollars they are owed, a factor they say is contributing to declining standards of service.
Public hospitals have in the past few weeks been sending text messages (SMSs) threatening to attach the property of patients failing to settle their bills.
A local company specialising in debt collection, Wellcash Debt Collectors, has been awarded a tender to collect fees owed to the hospitals by patients.
An official from Wellcash, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed his organisation had been contracted by hospitals to collect millions in outstanding fees.
“We have been given the tender to collect all the debts owed by patients to the public hospitals,” said the official.
One of the messages seen by Zimbabwe Independent read: “Another warning for the last time, pay US$81 for Harare hospital before your property is attached.”
Another SMS to a patient once admitted at Parirenyatwa Hospital, read: “A warning to pay up your hospital fees before your assets are attached.”
Harare Hospital clinical director George Vera said they have given Wellcash the task to collect their debts from patients because outstanding bills were huge.
“We are owed US$14 million and we have asked them (Wellcash) to collect our debts.
“I am not aware of how they are doing it, but debt collectors worldwide use threatening means in order to make people pay their debts,” Vera said.
However, this is contrary to President Robert Mugabe’s statement warning public hospitals against threatening or detaining patients for failing to settle their medical bills.
Mugabe told mourners at the burial of former Cabinet minister and Zanu PF politburo member Kumbirai Kangai in August that he was worried by the arm-twisting tactics of government hospitals that force patients to pay up.
“We don’t want huge fees in hospitals and we are not saying people must be treated for free, but the charges must be reasonable so that they can be met by our poor people,” Mugabe said.
Besides sending out threatening messages, public hospitals and clinics continue to detain mothers and deny them baby birth confirmation records over maternity fees despite the proposal by government to scrap the fees.
The hospitals are also failing to dispense basic drugs such as antibiotics and pain killers, forcing patients to turn to private pharmacies and clinics which are too expensive for the majority.