Tonga Health ministry vows to improve service after patients complain for waiting long hours

Tongan Health Director Siale ‘Akauʻola says he will not make any excuses about an incident in which patients were kept waiting for three hours before seeing a doctor at Vaiola hospital.

‘Akau’ola was responding to questions from Kaniva News after we were sent a photograph  of the outpatients’ ward with a caption saying patients were still waiting for a doctor after several hours.

The photo was taken by a person who asked us to use his name as Uai Junior Kalonihea on October 26 while he was waiting with his child who was sick.

Kalonihea said he was in the front seats and he was surprised when he looked back and realised the room was full.

The photograph shows the ward full, with one woman carrying a child on her arm standing by the door.

A patient said they waited about three hours before a doctor arrived to see more than 50 patients who were waiting in the outpatient ward.

When we contacted him, Dr ‘Akau’ola said: “Personally, I do not want to make any excuses at this point in time or attempt to deny what people have alleged to have happened.“

“I am fully aware that when people complain about Health Services, it usually means there is a deficiency in the level of services provided for the public and something needs to be done urgently to rectify the cause of this service shortfall.

“I fully share the concerns noted by the people and I want to use these complaints to guide actions to improve health services in the future.”

Dr ‘Akau’ola said there had been a breakdown in the working process leading to the disappointment and complaints by the public.

“I ask members of the public to please bear with us while we try to sort out these issues so we can make long lasting improvements,” he said.

The Director said it appeared the customer service desk set up in the outpatient and accident and emergency wards at Vailoa Hospital was not working properly yet.

The service desk was supposed to take complaints from people and pass them on to supervisors who could solve the problems.

However, the Director said most of the people in the outpatients’ ward were non-urgent cases.

They could afford to wait one or two hours before being seen. Priority cases were seen urgently.

Not the first time

In 2011 Kaniva News received a number of complaints from the public on the same issue – waiting long hours before a doctor showed up.

‘Uliti Uata, the then Minister of Health, said he had ordered the outpatients’ ward to install a drop box so people could leave written complaints and comments about the hospital’s service.

He said complaints about waiting long hours for doctors were at the top on the list.

He said the problem was resolved and people were satisfied with the services at the outpatient.

Uata resigned his portfolio after he suffered a stroke in August 2012.

The most recent complaint suggests the hospital authority did not work seriously to stop the problem.

Uai Kalonihea, who took the recent photograph, said people who were waiting complained to the nurse and asked the nurse who was on duty where was the doctor and she said he had left to take another case.

“When will this problem end?” he asked.

Meeting

Dr ‘Akau’ola said he would meet with the doctor in charge of the outpatient and accident and emergency wards, the medical superintendent, principal health administrator and hospital matron to work out solutions to the problems.

He said staff in outpatient and accident and emergency sections worked  beyond the call of duty and gave their best when required.

Dr ‘Akau’ola said the hospital used a prioritising system called triage to categorise patients according to how ill they were.

Urgent cases (triage level one and two) were seen first in accident and emergency and less urgent cases (triage levels three to five) were seen in the outpatients’ ward.

He said more than 85 percent of people in outpatients were triage level five cases.

If somebody on triage level five developed more serious symptoms while in outpatients, they could be seen immediately by the triage nurse for further assessment and referred for more urgent care if necessary.

If there were too many serious cases, more staff could be called in from other parts of the hospital.

The main points

  • Tongan Health Director Siale ‘Akau’ola says he will not make any excuses about an incident in which patients were kept waiting for three hours before seeing a doctor at Vaiola hospital.
  • ‘Akau’ola was responding to questions from Kaniva News after we were sent a photograph of the outpatients’ ward with a caption saying patients had waited for a doctor after several hours.
  • The Director said he fully shared the concerns noted by the people and wanted to use the complaints to improve health services.
  • However, he said most of the people in the outpatients’ ward were non-urgent cases.

For more information

Health service delivery profile Tonga

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