Thousands of residents who receive care at the State House Medical Centre (SHMC) in Abuja may have to look elsewhere as the presidency on Thursday announced plans to restrict public access to the facility.

The decision, which will mostly affect the Asokoro facility of the statehouse hospital, is due to “dwindling resources leading to a lean budgetary allocation to the facility,” the Permanent Secretary, State House, Tijjani Umar, said.

“This has made this decision inevitable,” he said.

Mr Umar made the announcement in his remarks at the opening of a two-day workshop on service improvement in the hospital. The event was held in Abuja.

The clinic, which was originally established to provide health care services to the president, vice president, their families, as well as members of staff of the Presidential Villa, now caters for about 32,000 patients, the official said, noting that this is no longer “sustainable” due to the drop in budgetary allocations.

The SHMC received one of its lowest budgetary allocations in 2019 after gulping almost N10 billion in the previous four years.

According to the budget office, about N800 million was allocated to SHMC last year. Apart from 2017 when it got N331.70 million, the 2019 figure is almost four times lower than the N3.94 billion and N3.87 billion allocated in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

It is also lower than the N1.03 billion budgeted in 2018.

In the wake of the 2019 budget cuts last April, President Muhammadu Buhari directed that the centre revert to a clinic to serve the “original purpose” of its establishment.”

The reversal was a case of “cutting one’s coat according to your cloth,” the then permanent secretary, State House, Jalal Arabi, had said.

Mr Arabi, who has now been moved to the humanitarian ministry, said the overstretching of facilities at the centre by patients is some of the challenges it has been going through.

“It wasn’t meant for that purpose.

“Nobody was charging anyone for any services and relying on appropriation means we will depend on subvention when it comes to running the centre,” he noted.

No More for Public Use

During Thursday’s workshop, Mr Umar said the presidency has restated its decision to bar the public from using the facilitates.

He said the decision was reached after a meeting of stakeholders to bring back the clinic to its original status of efficient service to those who are entitled to access the facility.

“We are going to trim down the number of unentitled people. Unentitled patients are bringing constraints to us and that’s all.

“This scaling down will assist us to look at those areas requiring improvement,” the official said.

The permanent secretary said, “the clinic used to be a yardstick for performance measurement in the medical enclave and pride of the highly trained and experienced personnel working there.

“However, in recent years, it was observed that services rendered at the clinic to the privileged few, suffered a noticeable decline to almost zero service delivery. This resulted in a mockery of the facility and loss of confidence by its customers on its ability to render effective service.

“In an effort to upturn this ugly trend and revive its past glory, the State House Management reversed the Medical Centre profile granted the facility, to its original status of Clinic, in order to limit the number of patients it handles and also maintain the original purpose it was created for.”

Earlier in her address, the Servicom National Coordinator, Nnennna Akajemeli, said a survey conducted at the clinic identified a shortage of staff, especially doctors, and frequent power outages among others.

Low Patronage from Presidency

But while the presidency is reverting the clinic to its original status to serve those “it was originally intended for”, the hospital is getting little patronage from the so-called targeted patients.

President Buhari and his family are known for shunning Nigeria’s underfunded hospitals, including the State House Clinic, to get medication abroad. The president was widely criticised for spending more than five months in the United Kingdom in 2017 despite his repeated promise to end medical tourism.