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Outsourcing of lab services at TTH may be a money-saving exercise but it threatens jobs


tthPublic hospitals in Ghana, today, besides providing much needed health care to the sick and the infirm, are profit oriented enterprises. With shrinking government grants and zero private donations, public health facilities in the country are left with no choice but to find ways to cut costs and save money if indeed they are to survive.

In organizations across the globe, one proven way to curtail losses is to outsource some functions. Though fiscally prudent, outsourcing does have its drawbacks; it creates tension between management, determined to prune/cut cost and staff overwhelmingly concerned with job losses. The Tamale Teaching Hospital faces this dilemma.

Recent management’s decision to outsource some aspects of the hospital’s lab services to a private agency invariably angered staff at the facility. The rationale advanced by management for embarking on this course of action, ostensibly to save money, was particularly galling to those who vehemently opposed the move. They argue that management’s failure to fund the lab is the primary cause of the many problems afflicting the outfit.

Thoroughly convinced that the decision to outsource was ill-timed and detrimental to the welfare of the hospital, patients and workers, the staff has threatened a strike action if management does not provide a clear, coherent and convincing rationale for its action.

Since that decision by management to outsource, the two sides have engaged in a bitter, sometimes acrimonious debate with each trying to outdo the other. The intervention last Friday of the Tamale Dakpenaa, Alhassan Dawuni has not changed minds. The two sides are still stuck to their positions.

While I strongly disagree with management’s decision to outsource lab functions at the TTH, I understand why it has chosen this path: the hospital is striving to be more efficient and everything is been done to realize this goal.

I believe management thinks outsourcing lab transactions could be a way for the hospital to redirect scarce capital to core activities. I also hold onto the belief that management thinks lab business at the hospital drains its resources.

Management believes, I presume, that if it outsourced lab functions, the hospital could count on faster receiving times on lab results thus freeing up space that previously housed the hospital’s lab. And this space could be used to house another department.

All that said, outsourcing requires that hospitals evaluate services and quality issues before plunging head-first into the venture. I admire TTH’s management’s efforts to make the facility lean and efficient, but did it do due diligence before the decision to outsource was reached?

Did management consider the fact that there could be longer turnaround times for lab results and what about the hospital loss of control over the quality of lab services? Reduction of labor costs aside, did management also ponder the loss of jobs, particularly those of experienced staffers that could result if outsourcing takes place?

In addition, did management think outsourcing the hospital’s lab functions could generate the kinds of savings they are looking for and how could outsourcing affect patient care and hospital operations?

Management claims it considered all these variables before choosing the path of outsourcing. Well, we will see how that works out.

Staff at the hospital are right to raise concerns and fears about the hospital’s plan to outsource. They have jobs to protect, and if management starts with the lab, who knows which department will be next on the chopping block.

Staff contention that the laboratory is being starved of much needed funds to acquire new equipment and keep it functioning is worrying. Management ought to address this problem as soon as practicable even if it goes ahead with plans to outsource.

By and large, outsourcing is not always the answer to a hospital grappling with financial difficulties. Outsourcing works best in smaller and midsize hospitals, and the TTH it should be pointed out, is a fairly large health facility.

The hope of Tamale residents and the patients at the hospital is that a common ground is found between the two opposing groups at the TTH. A prolonged stalemate is counterproductive and does not benefit anyone.



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