A medical doctor who was “wrongfully dismissed” from the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and his salary arrears withheld since 2012 has told Starr News he now lives as a single-room squatter who begs for table scraps to survive.
Described by many as Ghana’s Ben Carson for his rare pair of ‘healing hands’, Dr. Francis Ibrahim Betonsi was reportedly handed indefinite suspension half a decade ago on grounds of possible mental disorder.
He was referred to four of the country’s famous state-run hospitals, among them the Ankaful Mental Hospital and the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, for psychiatric assessment. But despite clinical psychologists and psychiatrists purportedly clearing him of any trace of delusional disorder, he allegedly was not reinstated with his salaries said to have been completely cut off to date.
When Starr News called on the 39-year-old doctor at Navrongo in the Upper East region, he was already greying in the moustache and in the scalp hair amid an overwhelming distress. His single room was as dim as the gloom on his quietened face. And he had nothing to show in the near-empty room except a pillowless old bed, windows without curtains, a vacant wardrobe, about two old pairs of shoes and a plastic table where a few grains of leftover sugar and some coins were kept for future use.
Dr. Betonsi said he was branded as deranged and dismissed by Dr. Paul Kwaw Ntodi (a medical superintendent at the Effia Nkwanta Regional Hospital in the Western region at the time) and some senior colleagues at the Western Regional Health Directorate after they had accused him of aiding a newspaper publication he said he knew nothing about.
“There was a case at the Effia Nkwanta Regional Hospital where a girl died as a result of some illegal practice. I think somebody wanted some money, some kind of bribe for blood transfusion. The girl was to be transfused and somebody wanted money. The [family] didn’t have. So, the blood was withheld and the teenager died in the process. This story was published in the newspapers. Subsequently, somebody called me and said the medical superintendent said I was the brain behind the newspaper publication. I didn’t know anything about that publication. I was told the medical director said he would sack me at all costs.
“Then, he took my name out of the duty roster and put a junior doctor in my place, meaning indeed he had dismissed me from work. My name was taken out and I wasn’t posted to any unit. It confirmed what I had heard— that he said he was going to dismiss me. And I find it funny— very funny— because the medical director, just like any other doctor, just like me, is also an employee of the Ghana Health Service. So, he does not have that locus to dismiss me at the level of the hospital. He was enjoying some sort of support from the regional health directorate and they had to think up an accusation that I had a mental illness as grounds for my dismissal,” Dr. Betonsi told Starr News.
Starr News sighted a document which suggests there was a hearing by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) on the matter. In Dr. Betonsi’s words, CHRAJ asked for his reinstatement but the GHS disregarded the directive.
“It was so painful. I was taken to Ankaful Mental Hospital in tears, in so much pain. There I met the Medical Director at the time, Dr. Kwaw Armah-Arloo. Subsequently, I was referred to Korle-Bu where I met Dr. Araba Sefa-Dedeh, a clinical psychologist. A report came out. The report was hidden from me. It was never provided for more than one year. And yet, I’m being subjected to all manner of atrocities and abuse.
“CHRAJ picked up the case and eventually I won that case at CHRAJ where the authorities were compelled to reinstate me and to produce a copy of the report for collection. For the first time I saw the report. The report favoured me. The report says I didn’t have any problem and that authorities should be fair in their dealings with me and avoid prejudice. I was cleared four good times,” he stated.
Starr News also spotted a letter dated 2nd May, 2012, in which Dr. Ntodi reportedly wrote to CHRAJ, saying he did not dismiss Dr. Betonsi.
“I have never made any attempts to expel him from the Effia Nkwanta Regional Hospital— either by depriving him of accommodation, depriving him of his salary, inciting any staff against him, portraying him as a ‘violent mad doctor’ or pile his personal file with false reports,” the letter said.
Excerpts from a written feedback forwarded in 2011 by Dr. Araba Sefa-Dedeh (the clinical psychologist mentioned earlier) to the Western Regional Director of Health Service at the time, Dr. Linda Vanotoo, read: “We explored the issues that provoked confrontation and what to do about them. The hospital on the other hand needs to ensure fairness and a lack of prejudice in their dealings with him (Dr. Betonsi). My assessment is that as of now there is no reason to conclude that he will have problems completing his internship and should be given the go-ahead to do his obstetrics and gynaecology rotation.”
At present Dr. Betonsi renders voluntary medical services at a young University for Development Studies Hospital at Navrongo where he earns “nothing” whilst, in the testimonies of many, still “saving lives” despite the difficulties he is battling with.
He told Starr News his attempts for reinstatement under GHS and his persistent request for the payment of his long-withheld salaries had continued to attract mistreatments and threats upon his life.
“They are using the system to fight me. I don’t know of any law, locally or internationally, that calls for the dismissal or indefinite suspension of an employee on grounds of mental illness even granted that I had any mental illness. You could check with the National Labour Commission to verify what I’m saying. I have been so badly defamed and abused. They just want to destroy me, destroy my life. What was my crime? Maybe because I refused to be corrupt.
“Even to eat is a problem. My life has come to a standstill. I have been jobless, depersonalised, dehumanised by my own colleague professionals. They dubiously told the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department that the reason for my dismissal was I vacated post but at the same time you are accusing me of psychiatric illness. Before my car was grounded, there was an attempt to blow off my car whilst I was inside the car. And there was another attempt to get me killed in an accident by loosening the bolts of two my tyres. The tyre on the driver’s side got removed suddenly whilst I was driving and the car skidded off the road. A cabal is fighting me. They are monitoring my movements wherever I go. I don’t know why some senior doctors are sitting aloof and will not condemn it,” he grieved.
Meanwhile, the new Director-General of the GHS, Dr. Anthony Nsiah-Asare, says Dr. Betonsi’s case is new to him. When contacted, he told Starr News he expected the aggrieved doctor to highlight his plight in a letter and address it to the headquarters for redress.