PESHAWAR: Following the assessment of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s 58 more “low-performing” public sector hospitals by the World Bank, the health department is awaiting the cabinet’s go-ahead for agreements with private organisations to operate those healthcare facilities through public-private partnerships.

Officials told Dawn that the health department had completed Phase I of the bidding process for the handover of those hospitals to NGOs under the Public Private Partnership Act 2016 for better operations.

They said those hospitals were identified during the last government but the health department got them reassessed through the World Bank to know exactly their “weaknesses” for the information of private organisations before their outsourcing through bidding.

The officials said the World Bank had nothing to do with the exercise of contracting out those health facilities as it had just carried out the assessment under its Human Capital Project at the request of the provincial government to know about the prevalent services and shortage of staff and medicines.

They said the health department’s Health Foundation had sent the assessment report to the government and requested it to inform it about the availability of funds before inviting private parties to run the facilities under the PPP initiative.

The officials said the cabinet’s formal approval would prevent future problems for the healthcare initiative and ensure its smooth sailing to the benefit of the people.

They said if the government didn’t guarantee the provision of funds, the idea of contracting out more hospitals won’t see execution especially amid the unsettled funding issues of the 19 public sector hospitals outsourced during the last few years.

The officials said the finance department hadn’t released funds for 11 outsourced hospitals since last year and that a committee had been formed to check services at those healthcare facilities operated through public-private partnerships.

They said though many of those hospitals located in newly-merged tribal districts had threatened to suspend free healthcare, the department was verifying the utilisation of previous funds prior to the release of unpaid amounts.

The officials said the finance department had withheld Rs938 million dues of the outsourced hospitals for the June-December 2022 period and had refused to release them until the completion of the inquiry.

They said the Health Foundation had sent the health department a report about the performance of NGOs already running health facilities as well as the one about fresh assessment of 58 hospitals by the World Bank with the latter awaiting the response of authorities.

The officials said the Health Foundation was just facilitating the hospital outsourcing exercise and had nothing to do with their audit or release of funds.

When contacted, managing director of the Health Foundation Dr Adnan Taj said a request had been sent to the health department about the funding of the expansion of the outsourcing initiative.

He said the foundation was committed to abiding by the cabinet’s decisions.

“We want our department’s guidance before contracting out more hospitals,” he said.

Dr Taj said 25 of a total of 54 private parties had been shortlisted but the outsourcing of more public sector hospitals needed the cabinet’s formal go-ahead.

He said the World Bank assessment of hospitals would enable the interested organisations to know about ground realities regarding the availability of specialists, nurses and paramedics, equipment, investigation facilities, beds, operating theaters, blood banks, and infrastructure.

The official said it was the government to decide about whether or not to manage more hospitals through public-private partnerships.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2023

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