THE University Teaching Hospital (UTH) is spending over K100,000 a week to provide oxygen for patients on life support after the institution’s oxygen plant broke down more than two weeks ago.
UTH public relations manager Mwenya Mulenga said the US$900,000 oxygen plant commissioned two years ago had been out of order, forcing the largest health institution in Zambia to procure the life-saving gas from commercial gas suppliers at high cost.
He said the plant has not been adequately serviced since its installation, causing damage to some essential parts which have resulted in the breakdown, which has also affected oxygen supply to other hospitals across the country.
“Yes, the oxygen plant has been out of order for over two weeks and we are now using oxygen cylinders which we acquire from gas companies for about K100,000-plus for a week’s supply.
“The service was overdue and some parts got damaged, but previously, the suppliers from South Africa were periodically called in to carry out maintenance works.
That has not happened since sometime last year and that has resulted in the breakdown,” he said.
He explained that UTH management should have entered into concession agreement for periodic servicing of the oxygen plant at the time of installation but instead there was just periodic maintenance works carried out until sometime last year.
Mr Mulenga said the equipment had not been serviced for almost one year, exceeding the recommended periodic service and repair which has resulted in the breakdown.
The over 1,800-bed capacity health facility was the largest hospital in Zambia and provided the much needed oxygen gas to other public hospitals countrywide at a subsidized price who were now forced to buy it at commercial rate.
He however said the Ministry of Health had released funds towards the repair of the plant but could not state when the works could commence.
And UTH has confirmed reports that it was laying off over 300 casual workers in line with the new labour law against casualization.
Mr Mulenga said although the hospital was in dire need of extra hands, the law of casualization had forced them to take drastic action against workers engaged on a temporal basis mostly non-clinical staff.He said there were a lot of gaps in the staffing levels at the institution, and laying off casuals would adversely affect the operation of the health facility in maintenance, cleaning and clinical and technical departments.
“Come March 31, 2016, the hospital is laying off about 300 casual workers from different departments in line with the new law against casualization.
“It will definitely strain the hospitals operations because there are a lot of gaps to fill in the staff levels which was why we (UTH) engaged casuals to try and fill up the shortfalls,” he said.
Mr Mulenga however disclosed that management was in consultations with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour on what options they could have to retain some casual workers in critical areas of the facility.
“We are still in consultation with ministries of Health and of Labour on possible guidelines which would help us retain some workers without affecting most sensitive departments which are very critical.
“For us to get casuals means the areas they are covering are critical and laying them off will mean creating deficits in staffing,” he said. He said already, the hospital was short-staffed with both clinical and non-clinical staff levels operating at a minimum, but was hopeful the Government would work out something to avoid a crisis.