Doctors at Ghana's second biggest teaching hospital have threatened to attend to only three patients per day per doctor following the directive of the Ministry of Health (MoH) to a doctor and midwife who were on duty, when the body of a stillborn baby disappeared in mysterious circumstances on 5 February, to proceed on leave.
The Minister of Health, Ms Sherry Ayittey, also said the conduct of the two would be referred to their ethics and disciplinary committees of their respective professional bodies for investigation and action.
The state-owned Graphic newspaper reported on Saturday that the doctors at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi, said they were reviewing their standard operating procedures to conform to internationally acceptable standards. It is also to avoid overworking which exposed them to commit mistakes and incur the displeasure of the public.
The measure was further to improve the quality of healthcare and ensure the safety and security of patients and staff at the health facility, they said.
The angry doctors said they worked under pressure due to the large number of patients they attended to in a day and this had affected the quality of care they provided.
The 1,000-bed hospital has about 200 doctors with daily attendance of some 1,900 patients. It is also accredited for post-graduate training by the West African College of Surgeons in surgery, obstetrics, gynaecology, ophthalmology and radiology.
The hospital, which is situated in Ghana's second biggest city, has been in the spotlight for about three weeks now when the family of a 42-year-old woman, who was said to have given birth to a stillborn baby, demanded the body for burial according to Islamic rites.
However, the hospital could not produce the body. A mob stormed the maternity ward, molested health workers and destroyed documents and furniture. Doctors and nurses at the hospital went on strike for one week to protest the attack while they demanded security at the hospital and in their homes.
An investigation carried out by the MoH revealed chilling details that out of 16 babies delivered on 5 February, 5 babies were declared stillborn.
This, Ms Ayittey said, amounted to 30% stillbirths at the teaching hospital which was very high.
“With immediate effect the Board, Management and Chief Executive Officer of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital should account for the corpses of the five stillborn babies delivered on the said date within 14 working days for burial by the families,” she directed.
“We are working hard to reduce neonatal death and also accelerating our effort of reducing maternal and child mortality and morbidity that is why we take this issue seriously,” Ayittey stressed.
According to the minister, the committee discovered that job descriptions were not clearly spelt out and new staff were not being supervised to ensure adherence to standard operation procedures.
Ms Ayittey said a cleaner at the hospital who claimed he removed a box containing some stillborn babies and burnt them had been interdicted.
The authorities have since been fighting an image of a baby stealing syndicate operating in the hospital with the Chief Executive Officer, Professor Ohene Adjei, vehemently denying the tag.
The newspaper quoted the Public Relations Officer of KATH, Kwame Frimpong, as saying no official communication had been received from the doctors on their decision.
Meanwhile, police have charged seven people for the disappearance of the 'stillborn' baby that triggered the investigation.
Police said on Thursday in Kumasi that the seven, including nurses, were charged with stealing and conspiracy to steal and were released on bail.
Police say the matter has been referred to the Attorney-General’s Department for direction and legal advice.
Some members of the mob who attacked the maternity ward have been arrested and investigations are continuing.