| 23 June 2021, Wednesday |

Haroun to SBI: Hospitals will suspend non-urgent surgeries as medicine shortage excavates

Rania Ghanem

Lebanese hospitals have been for months fighting exhausting battle against coronavirus, and before breathing a sigh of relief, another hurdle arose on the horizon mainly the shortage in pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

Amid this situation, the Syndicate of Private Hospitals sounded alarm, and announced it will suspend some non-urgent surgeries and laboratory examinations. The Head of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, Sleiman Haroun, told Sawt Beirut International (SBI): “There is drastic shortage of medicines, mainly anesthetics and laboratory reagents, that’s why we are obliged to suspend some non-emergency surgeries, which represent about 50 percent of the total, and postpone it until pharmaceuticals are available.”

Hospitals have been struggling for a long time due to the economic and financial crisis. They have suffered over the past months from devaluation, which impacted the hospitals’ purchases and ability to secure medical supplies. Imports of medical supplies are estimated at $250 million annually, according to the medical equipment importers’ syndicate; however, the amounts imported did not exceed ten percent of the total last year.

Unpaid Hospital dues

What worsens the situation is the hospital’s dues owed by public sector entities to private hospitals. Accumulated dues from previous years totaled $1.3 billion, and dues for 2020 alone have reached 900 billion LBP. Haroun said: “Public sector hospitalization coverage providers often fail to send the payment claims to the Ministry of Finance in a timely manner.” Hospitals have repeatedly raised the voice demanding their financial dues, but without any response. He added, that although the Ministry of Finance have announced lately that it will transfer 43 billion LBP to the hospitals, but unfortunately it didn’t receive any of its dues so far.

Hospital tariff quadrupled

The financial crisis, along with the decision to lift subsidies on medical supplies is threatening the healthcare services, and affecting patients severely. As a result of devaluation, patients are bearing the increase in hospital bills and the difference between the official exchange rate of the dollar and its price on the black market. The increase in hospital bills is not covered by the guarantors, including the Ministry of Health, National Social Security Fund, State Employees Cooperative, and military institutions, as well as  private insurance companies. Haroun said that the Syndicate conducted a study regarding the real hospitalization cost and tariff. It indicated that if dollar is traded at an exchange rate of 12,500 LBP and if subsidies on medicines and some medical supplies are kept, hospital tariffs quadruple. “As there aren’t any solutions from the government, the only solution currently is charging patients with the additional cost.”

Shortage in medical staff

The shortage in pharmaceuticals is accompanied with a huge shortage in the medical staff, which includes nurses, technicians working in laboratories, radiology and other departments. Haroun said that a remarkable number of medical workers are emigrating as a result of the deteriorating economic and living conditions in Lebanon, in addition to the huge demand on the Lebanese medical workers abroad . He confirmed that immigration continues despite the fact that most hospitals have provided salary raises to their staff. “We are unable to fill the gap and the shortage of the medical staff.”

Haroun said that hospitals are so far able to maintain the quality of their medical services, “but we do not know how long we can maintain that quality.” He hoped that hospitalization tourism will improve as the country has become more competitive, were it provides high-quality medical services at very competitive cost compared to the hospital cost in Europe and America.