Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Patients in public hospitals in Nigeria have begun to feel the negative impact of the industrial action embarked upon by medical doctors under the umbrella of the Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria (NARD).
The doctors, at the expiration of their two-week notice, withdrew their services at public hospitals across Nigeria, effective June 15, to draw the attention of the government to issues that concern them.
The body, however, exempted its members attending to COVID-19 patients at designated treatment and isolation centres for the first two weeks of the strike, after which they would be co-opted to join the industrial action.
Reasons for strike
NARD president, Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, told Daily Sun in Abuja that the issues that led to the strike revolve around the appeal for conducive working conditions and welfare of doctors.
He said: “”For the purpose of clarity, the demands on which the ultimatum was predicated include, but not limited to the provision of the grossly inadequate appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for all healthcare workers responding to COVID-19 pandemic.
“There must be a universal implementation of the Medical Residency Training Act in all federal and state hospitals, and ensuring pay parity among doctors of equal cadre. Also, immediate implementation of the revised hazard allowance and payment of the COVID-19 inducement allowance as agreed with the government and healthcare workers three months ago.
“Others are provision of funding for Medical Residency Training in the 2021 Appropriation Bill, payment of all arrears owed our members in federal and states tertiary health institutions, arising from the consequential adjustment of the national minimum wage, and stoppage and immediate refund of all illegal, unjust and callous cut in salaries of our members by Kaduna State and other state governments.”
On May 30, NARD issued a statement indicating that it would embark on an indefinite strike after 14 days if governments, at all levels, failed to attend to several issues that border on unpaid members salaries, entitlements, and other issues that concerned the doctors.
The group claimed that its members are owed salaries and entitlements particularly in Kaduna and some other state, that its members on the frontlines are harassed by security agents among several other complaints, which according to them, have been reported to the appropriate authorities for action.
NARD said it would no longer tolerate such unfair treatment of its members, particularly those under the employment of some state government, particularly Kaduna State that had decided to slash the salaries of medical doctors and also deny them some entitlements. They said they would down tools 14 days after if actions were not taken.
Search for peace
There was a mild drama at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Abuja, on Tuesday, the first day of meeting between government representatives and the doctors to discuss and possibly find solution to the problem.
But after long hours of meeting and deliberations, no solutions were arrived at. Both parties were said to have maintained status quo and refused to shift ground for the sake of peace.
Officials of NARD, led by the President, Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, were said to have walked out in obvious anger towards the end of the meeting. A source at the meeting told Daily Sun that doctors were uncomfortable with the position being taken by government regarding the situation.
The source said: “The matter became worse when the representatives of the doctors became hard about the threat by the Minister of Health to issue directives to the Chief Medical Directors of tertiary hospitals to open a register in their hospitals to take attendance of the doctors that report to duty, so that punitive measures could be taken against those that failed to report.”
Expectedly, patients seeking medical attention at the public health care facilities are always at the receiving end whenever doctors in public hospitals embark on a strike. Their frustrations are increased and hope for quality medical attention is dashed.
In Abuja, the negative impact of the industrial action is evident in virtually all the public health care facilities. From the National Hospital to Federal Staff Hospital, to University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH), there is total compliance.
At hospitals in Wuse, Asokoro, Maitama, Nyanya, Kubwa, and others, the compliance level was also the same. Patients were unattended to, and advised to harness available options.
The National Hospital, Abuja, was not as busy as it used to be. Only a few health workers, mostly nurses and some consultants, were rendering services to patients.
Same was the case at the Asokoro and Wuse Districts Hospitals. Amid the skeletal services, there were complaints from patients and passionate appeals to the government to intervene.
A patient, Isioma, said she was in the hospital to seek medical attention but was asked to check elsewhere because the doctors that would attend to her were not available. She added: “I came from Keffi to see my doctor for a check up, but I was told he’s not on seat and won’t return until the strike is over. His response when I called him on phone further dashed my hope of getting medical services soon. His voice didn’t sound encouraging at all.”
She appealed to the Federal Government to attend to the doctors so they can quickly return to work and attend to the health of the people. “Anything other than that could be catastrophic,” she said.
Another patient who identified himself as Kazeem, said he was forced to consider other options, one of which was to patronise a private clinic and bear the high cost of services there.
“This was because I could afford it. What of the poor masses that could not afford services at private health care facilities,” he wondered.
He appealed to both parties to shield their swords, reach a compromise and resolve whatever challenges that might have led to the industrial action for the benefit of Nigerians.
A nurse at the Maitama Hospital, who pleaded anonymity, said they were not overwhelmed by work, noting that people had not been coming to the hospital since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
She said: “For the past few months, some doctors and consultants don’t come to the hospital. They prefer that we send them samples and pictures, and they would prescribe drugs. Many of them complain about inadequate Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) and other entitlements.
“On the other hand, patients that ordinarily, visit the hospital for minor medical checks or treatment choose to patronise pharmacies. Many of them said they are afraid of being infected with coronavirus.”
There are indications that NARD has returned to the “drawing board” on the best ways to confront the government on the issues.
As at Wednesday evening, NARD President could not be reached on phone but a senior executive member of the association informed Daily Sun that the members were in an emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, perhaps, to deliberate on the offer from the Federal Government.