Rent-seeking doctors are pocketing up to Sh100,000 for every patient they refer abroad for specialised treatment, a cancer specialists lobby group has said as the stash of hard currency spent on medical tourism hits new highs.
The Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations said deep-pocketed foreign hospitals have established a cartel of unscrupulous medical practitioners to ensure a stable flow of patients.
“It is known and I can go on record saying that some healthcare providers are getting kickbacks of up to $1,000 (Sh102,000) per patient referred to hospitals in India for cancer treatment that Kenya has capacity to handle,” said chairman David Makumi, who is also an oncologist.
“Personally, I have been approached (by the agents of foreign hospitals) but when I threatened to report them to the anti-corruption agency, they took off,” he said in Nairobi on Thursday during the launch of American Cancer Society Source Programme.
Kenya has lately developed a substantial capacity to treat cancer. Experts, however, say radiotherapy infrastructure in private hospitals is idle 40 per cent of the time.
On Thursday, Dr Makumi said rather than being motivated by clinical judgment, the decision to send patients for treatment abroad has mostly been driven by commercial consideration of some doctors.
“Four in every 10 patients diagnosed for radiotherapy do not show up. When you follow up, you find they were advised to go seek treatment abroad yet radiotherapy is standard whether in India, New York or Kenya,” he said.
Data from the Ministry of Health indicates that Kenyans spent about Sh8 billion on health services abroad, depleting the country’s foreign currency reserves by the same margin.
Dr Makumi also wants the National Health Insurance Fund cover for cancers to be inclusive of all patients and not just civil servants “since there are many Kenyans who still cannot afford basic treatment”.
Currently, cancer patients referred from Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi to the Aga Khan Hospital get a reduced rate for chemotherapy.
A cancer patient may require up to 30 such treatment and administration of drugs would cost one about Sh20,000 — in the referral plan — compared to about Sh100,000 normal charge.
Kenya still faces a shortage of oncologists and equipment for diagnosis of some “complicated” types of cancers hence the uptake of medical tourism.
Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board CEO Daniel Yumbya said only cases of delayed or specialised treatment not available in Kenya can be recommended by doctors to facilities abroad.
He told the Business Daily that rogue doctors should be reported to the board for appropriate disciplinary action.
“It is an issue to be investigated. Patients approach doctors in confidentiality trusting that good advice shall be given in the interest of a patient but not the other way round — if there is breach of ethical codes, it is punishable by law,” said Mr Yumbya.