Motivating health workers up to a limit: partial effects of performance-based financing on working environments in Nigeria

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Abstract

Background: In 2012, the Nigerian government launched performance-based financing (PBF) in three districts providing financial incentives to health workers based on the quantity and quality of service provision. They were given autonomy to use funds for operational costs and performance bonuses. This study aims to understand changes in perceived motivation among health workers with the introduction of PBF in Wamba district, Nigeria.

Methods: The study used a qualitative research design to compare perceptions of health workers in facilities receiving PBF payments in the pilot district of Wamba to those that were not. In-depth semi-structured interviews (n = 39) were conducted with health workers from PBF and non-PBF facilities along with managers of the PBF project. Framework analysis was used to identify patterns and variations in responses. Facility records were collated and triangulated with qualitative data.

Findings: Health workers receiving PBF payments reported to be ‘awakened’ by performance bonuses and improved working environments including routine supportive supervision and availability of essential drugs. They recounted being more punctual, hard working and proud of providing better services to their communities. In comparison, health workers in non-PBF facilities complained about the dearth of basic equipment and lack of motivating strategies. However, health workers from both sets of facilities considered there to be a severe shortage of manpower resulting in excessive workload, fatigue and general dissatisfaction.

Conclusions: PBF strategies can succeed in motivating health workers by bringing about a change in incentives and working conditions. However, such programmes need to be aligned with human resource reforms including timely recruitment and appropriate distribution of health workers to prevent burn out and attrition. As people working on the frontline of constrained health systems, health workers are responsive to improved incentives and working conditions, but need more comprehensive support.

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