Services at public hospitals across Nigeria have been practically crippled following a nationwide strike embarked upon by members of the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors, NARD.
The NARD members, who are doctors in the employment of federal teaching hospitals and medical centres, are demanding the payment of their emoluments among other issues.
Consequently, the hospitals have been discharging patients on admission while refusing to admit new ones irrespective of their condition.
Sadly, neither the striking doctors nor their employers (the Government) appear ready for a quick resolution of the dispute.
The striking doctors have remained adamant on their demands in the face of the plea by government, citing limited resources at its disposal, for understanding.
According to them, it is 100 per cent compliance with the strike. Not even emergency cases in the hospitals will be attended to.
When NARD officials and representatives of the Federal Government met last Wednesday to look at the doctors’ demands, the meeting ended in a deadlock.
Health watchers are worried that the federal government, on its part, has been slow in responding to the issues raised by the doctors.
They are also worried about the directive of the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, that Medical Directors and Chief Medical Directors of the hospitals affected should engage locum doctors and National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, members to fill the vacuum created by the NARD members’ strike.
While the Minister, in a circular with Ref. No. C. 3132/Vol. V/116, had directed CMDs/MDs of federal hospitals to immediately engage the services of locum doctors to augment the services of consultants, NYSC doctors and doctors on internship pending the resolution of the strike as a measure to cushion the effect.
NARD blamed the strike on the failure of federal government to honour agreements dating as far back as 2014.
Meanwhile, an offer by the federal government during a meeting held sometime ago with the doctors was that they should give it time till November 2, 2017 to look into their six-point demand.
The offer was rejected by the doctors. The aggrieved doctors also claimed that they embarked on the strike because they were tired of hearing ‘I will do this’ from the federal government, saying what they wanted to hear is ‘I have done this.’
According to the Secretary General of NARD, Dr Aneke Emmanuel, who urged the general public to bear with the striking doctors, the inaction of government caused the strike. “The fact is that our members don’t want to hear ‘I will do this’ from government. What they want to hear is ‘I have done this’ because we have been on ‘I will do this’ for the past two years.
We are not going to pay house rent, school fees among others with government appeal”, Emmanuel said. Government, he stated, should address the issues raised by the NARD before they can call-off the strike.
He went on:” We have a lot of demands but we extracted a few that can be taken care of urgently. They need to pay our salary shortfalls and arrears, pay in full our salary from August to the end of the year and all the outstanding.
“They also need to release a circular placing our House Officers at the appropriate levels while promotion should be implemented.
The idea of no work no pay should be stopped and they should place us back on pension scheme.” With the doctor’s position not to return to work until all their demands are met, preventable deaths are likely to be recorded particularly from emergency and referral cases.
However, since the release of the Adewole (Minister) circular, directing locum and NYSC doctors to take over the duties of the striking NARD members, reactions have continued to trail it.
One of the reactions so striking was that of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUCN which described the directive as reckless, unguided and unexpected of a Minister.
The TUC President, Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama and Secretary General, Comrade Musa-Lawal Ozigi, expressed disappointment that at a time nations are building strong health sectors, ‘the giant of Africa’ sees the engagement of casual workers as recipe to the challenge in the health sector. “The best of Nigerian doctors are abroad doing great; in fact, they treat our politicians who seek medical help abroad.
And do you know what? They left this country because of some of the issues that led to the present strike.
In other climes, issues that border on health are not treated with kid gloves, because lives are involved. But the reverse is the case here.” The TUCN argued that asking consultants to work overtime while negotiations continue with the NARD members was dangerous because the situation involves human life. The union asked if the consultants are factory workers.
“How do you persuade a medical doctor that is fagged out to perform a surgery? We are going through enough pains already, trading lives for government’s complacency is most unreasonable.
The Minister should realise that the hospitals they patronise abroad are not manned by casual doctors”, it said. Hospital situations with the hospitals paralysed following the doctors’ strike, patients are no doubt in for tough times.