Hospital services disrupted as resident doctors begin a five-day warning strike


Hospital services in teaching hospitals nationwide were on Wednesday disrupted, following the five-day warning strike by medical doctors.

The doctors are ooersting on the platform of the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD.

This disruptions are coming as the National President of NARD, Dr Emeka Orji, has accused federal government top officials of threatening members of the association with punitive measures, instead of addressing the germane issues raised by the association.

The medical doctors had declared a strike after the expiration of the ultimatum earlier issued to the federal government.

But the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, flayed NARD for embarking on the strike, describing its members as disrespectful to the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, who he said was already negotiating on their behalf.

As at 10:00 am when Vanguard visited some of the hospitals in Lagos, patients were seen at the waiting areas to be attended to.

Although there were skeletal services in some of the hospitals, some patients claimed they were asked to go home and return the next week as the doctors are on strike.

At the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, many patients were stranded, a majority of them were turned back without getting the needed treatment.

Many of the outpatients were not treated based on the strike but were given new appointment dates to continue their treatment.

Some of the members of the Association of Resident Doctors in LASUTH (LASUTH-ARD) who spoke to Vanguard, said that other categories of doctors in the hospital, including consultants, medical officers and doctors undergoing horsemanship, filled the gap by attending to patients whose medical conditions were critical as well as emergency cases.

▪Patients lament strike

A middle-aged woman who took her 10-year-old son for stomach ache was fortunate as she was called into the doctor’s waiting room because of the worsening condition of her son.

Two other patients who were on follow-up treatment for arthritis and dental problems were, however, not attended to by doctors but were given new appointment dates for a return visit.

When Vanguard visited the Out-patients areas of LASUTH, the health record unit, eye clinic, haematology, and dental clinics, among others, were deserted.

The President, of LASUTH, ARD, Dr Salman Abeeb Oladapo, who confirmed that the strike was already in progress by 8:00 am, said: “We started it in our centre and it is 100 per cent compliance from our members.

“Though we have started to engage the management and the government, we are hopeful that very soon, our demands are going to be met, both at the federal and state levels, so we can start to discuss among ourselves and see a way out of this”.

He said part of our demand was the 200 per cent salary increase which ought to have been effected before now.

“The salary structure started in 2009. The idea was for CONMESS to be increased every five years. It was in action by 2014. When it started effectively then, it was due for another review because that was five years after but up till now, there is yet to be an increment. That is why we are telling the government that it is long overdue for an upward review,’’ he said.

He pointed out that their colleagues and other medical staff in the hospital were suffering the effects of brain drain, stressing that part of the reason for the brain drain was emolument.

‘’We feel and from what we have seen that if the government can compensate the healthcare workers, especially the clinical staff; doctors and nurses very well, we believe this is going to stem the brain-drain issues.

“For the hazard allowance, the federal government has started paying that but in Lagos state, we are yet to receive a dime as regards hazard allowance, we are still being paid the old rate. We are hopeful that government will meet with us and we can sit down and discuss and ensure that this hazard allowance is paid to our members soonest.

“Another problem is the obnoxious bill that says a doctor will be kept for five years in Nigeria without giving them their permanent licence. That is tantamount to slavery,’’ he explained.

Also, a visit to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, revealed the effectiveness of the strike as some of the resident doctors in the hospital were seen not attending to patients. Only a few consultants were attending to a few patients, and the situation was the same in all the teaching hospitals in Lagos.

▪Strike effective — NARD boss

Reviewing the situation with Vanguard, the National President of NARD, Dr Emeka Orji, claimed that reports from their members nationwide showed that the strike was effective and 100 per cent compliant. Orji, however, accused the federal government of issuing threats to their members, instead of addressing the issues raised by NARD.

While noting that the government was yet to invite them for a meeting, the NARD President frowned on the activities of top government officials whom he alleged were going to television stations to castigate their members and issue threats and punitive measures, warning that such threats and actions would escalate the situation.

“Top government officials in Abuja are issuing threats rather than resolving the issues. As for whether the government has called us for a meeting, they have not called us, the only thing is that our members are watching them on TV issuing threats to us and talking about punitive measures.

‘’Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that may cause an escalation. So Nigerians should observe and pay attention so that nobody will blame NARD if at the end of this five days working strike we review it and if no result has been achieved from the warning strike, members may resort to indefinite strike.”

“Many state governors have simply abandoned the health care sector in their state, they are not investing in infrastructure, they are not recruiting staff, and you know they are not paying their workers adequately. ’In fact, some states are owing 30 months’ salary to doctors and nurses, so how are we going to make progress if these states are not even trying to meet up with what is happening at the federal level this is part of the reason for the strike.”

Also, speaking, the Secretary of the Medical and Consultant Association of Nigeria, MDCAN, LASUTH, Dr Morouf Abdulsalam, said consultant doctors were keeping the hospitals afloat as much as they could. He, however, acknowledged that notice of the strike was served and every other doctor in the hospital was working, except members of NARD.

“We are having skeletal services here and there and it is impossible for the consultants to take over the services of the resident doctors. The aim is not to take over their jobs but to as much as possible provide services that are critical to our well-being.
“It is not possible for the doctors and other cadres of government to manage the health system especially if we want the system to work optimally,’’ he said.

▪Resident doctors disrespectful — Ngige

But reacting to the strike yesterday, Chris Ngige, minister of labour and employment, said NARD was disrespectful to the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, by embarking on the strike.

Ngige, who spoke in an interview on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, said the resident doctors disregarded the efforts of the NMA.

“The resident doctors are part of NMA. They are young doctors in training. So if NMA is negotiating on their behalf as the parent body, what these young people (resident doctors) are doing is disrespecting the NMA. They are crying wolf when there is none.”

On Tuesday, the minister had said the NMA was holding talks with the Ministry of Health, the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission and the presidential committee on salaries, on a pay rise for doctors, and advised the doctors to give room for dialogue.
He also said the warning strike was “unknown to the law”, and warned that the health minister would instruct teaching hospitals to employ ad-hoc staff while the warning strike lasts and pay them with the money meant for the striking doctors.

“It is incongruous for students doctors to embark on strike when consultants training them were already negotiating with the federal government,” Ngige had said. (Vanguard)

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