Medical services have been disrupted in most tertiary hospitals across the nation since Monday following the indefinite, nationwide industrial action declared by members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD). The resident doctors’ action is sequel to the failure of the Federal Government’s negotiating team and the leadership of the NARD to reach an accord on some of the doctors’ demands.
Some of the contentious issues are the failure on the part of the government to rectify the shortfall in the salaries of the doctors; failure to circularise house officers’ entry point; stagnation of members’ promotion, pension issues; and non-capturing of members on the Integrated Personnel Payment Information System (IPPIS).
The strike badly affected medical services at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos; National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos; University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan; Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Abeokuta, Ogun State; FMC, Asaba, Delta State, Delta University Teaching Hospital (DELSUTH) and many others across the country. Patients in the affected hospitals have appealed to the government to resolve the problem with the striking doctors and save their lives.
While negotiation with the striking doctors continues, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, has accused NARD members of violating the provisions of Section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act of the Federation, 2004, by their indefinite industrial action. He also explained that the Trade Dispute Act stipulates that once the Minister of Labour has begun conciliation, no party in a dispute can take any action that violates the provisions of the law. Also, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has faulted the strike.
We strongly decry this strike and urge both parties to the industrial dispute to quickly resolve the matter in the interest of industrial harmony and the abandoned, ailing patients in the affected hospitals. The incessant strikes in the health sector contribute to the nation’s failing health system.
We have said it several times that strike should be the last option in resolving any industrial dispute in the country. We still stand by it. However, we believe that the striking doctors have a genuine case. Their demands are fair enough. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these medical practitioners asking for their due entitlements. Government should stop paying lip service to doctors’ demands for better conditions of service. Today, it is the resident doctors that are on strike; tomorrow it may be another category of medical workers. This is one strike that the country can ill afford. We say this because human life is directly involved. And, any life lost on account of a strike is lost forever. Government should be reminded that medical doctors provide vital services that cannot be dispensed with. Let government act with dispatch and resolve this dispute as quickly as possible.
Government must also ensure that medical doctors and other healthcare workers are adequately remunerated to stem the rising tide of brain drain in the sector. No doubt, there is a correlation between brain drain in the sector and rising medical tourism by the political elites and the affluent in the society. To curb brain drain and medical tourism, government must muster the political will to put the health sector in the right shape.
Apart from the provision of the needed medical equipment in our hospitals, the welfare of doctors should be holistically addressed. Our doctor/patient ratio is far from the standard threshold of 1:600. Our primary health care system is collapsing. One essential war the government needs to fight is the war against the decay in the health sector.
Government should stop shying away from adequately funding this sector that has a direct effect on virtually all other sectors. Allowing resident doctors to go on strike over issues such as shortfall in their salaries is unnecessary. Let the matter be resolved forthwith.