By Job Osazuwa, Sola Ojo, Oluseye Ojo, Femi Folaranmi, Mokwugwo Solomon, Jude Chinedu And Francis Amedu
Anger, anguish, frustration, desperation. These are the emotions that hit you at the various teaching hospitals, federal medical centres and national orthopaedic centres as resident doctors have withdrawn their services to patients. The doctors’ strike enters Day Six today.
The aggrieved medics are insisting that except their demands are met, they will not return to their duty posts.
Some people, who have been watching the health of their sick relatives steadily deteriorating, quickly discharged the patients and relocated them to private hospitals. But only a few could take such decision as many other patients who don’t have the financial means are simply praying for God to keep them alive while hoping for the strike to be called off soon.
The hospitals on their parts have stopped admitting new patients.
The industrial action embarked on by resident doctors on August 2, has almost paralysed activities in all the affected government hospitals nationwide. Patients, relatives and other Nigerians are pleading with the government and doctors to sheath their swords and save lives.
The doctors, under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), had at the end of their National Executive Council meeting in Umuahia, Abia State, last Sunday, resolved to embark on a total and indefinite strike.
Anguish in Lagos
When one of our correspondents visited Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), the doctors complied fully with the strike directive from their parent body. They stayed away from work, leaving medical consultants, nurses and other health workers to offer skeletal services.
Patients on admission were seen hurriedly leaving the hospital for either their homes or private hospitals after it dawned on them that there were no doctors on ground to attend to their cases.
Mr Uchenna Aliogu, who rushed his wife to the hospital for a dialysis procedure, was turned back. He complained about the timing of the strike and called on the government to immediately intervene so that the doctors could return to work.
“This is becoming too much to bear. I don’t have the huge money to admit her at a private hospital, but will I watch her to die? It is frustrating and killing. There is no reason the doctors should go on strike at this point in time, particularly as we are not totally off the hook of COVID-19.
“I also blame the government because it can never keep to its promises. Doctors are treated like kings and queens outside the country. No wonder our young doctors will continue to write foreign medical exams and thereafter leave the country in droves. It is unfortunate that we have always had irresponsible and insensitive governments,” Aliogu said.
At a canopy mounted for visitors near the Medical Outpatient department, an angry relative to a patient blamed both the government and the doctors for unleashing suffering on the common man on the street.
“Everybody is wicked in this country. Strike every time. The poor man will continue to suffer. Where can we take this man to now?” He asked no one in particular as he walked briskly towards the cash office, holding different receipts and other papers in both hands.
At the Medical Emergency Ward, only a few persons were seen entering and coming out of the busy emergency unit. Even when our reporter approached one of the security guards at the entrance asking if he could bring a patient there for admission, he gave a straight ‘no’ answer.
“They are discharging patients and you want to bring in your own. Which doctor will attend to you? The ward is almost empty. You better take your patient somewhere else,” the security guard said. Mrs Alice Bankole, who said that her husband was admitted at the hospital five days before the strike began, said that she was confused on what to do next.
“My husband is still here. He is already getting better before the strike started. But he has not fully recovered. I don’t know whether to take him to another hospital and move his medical records there or rely on the nurses here to continue his medication.
“I am just praying that the strike should be called off as soon as possible so that his health will not become worse. Another problem is that I don’t have the money to deposit in a private hospital to start a new routine of treatment. That is why I am still here waiting. God will help me and my husband,” she said. Also at the Coronary Care Unit (CCU), a man who identified himself as Abdul Hassan said that he brought his younger brother to the hospital one month ago. He has a cardiovascular ailment.
But luckily for him, his brother doesn’t need a resident doctor at the moment to continue his treatment.
“All the patients here see different experts. It is a consultant who has been coming to attend to my brother in the last one month. I am hopeful that in the next one week, he would be discharged. Thank God that we are not affected by the strike but I want the doctors to call it off very soon for the sake of the people that are affected. “My concern is that it is only a few people who can afford to be treated at private hospitals. For instance, I have spent over N2 million since we came here. Meaning we would have spent double if it was a private hospital. There are people whose conditions have worsened and may not be able to afford private hospitals at this time,” he said.
Close to the three-storey CCU building at LASUTH is the Cancer Screening and Treatment Centre. At this department, skeletal activities were also going on there. The doctors are demanding, among others things, the immediate withdrawal of the circular removing House Officers from the scheme of service and decried the undue hardship doctors on GIFMIS platform were facing due to the delays in payment of their salary arrears ranging from three to seven months. NARD further expressed concern over the poor response of most state governments in domesticating the Medical Residency Training Act of 2017 while commending states like Delta and Benue, which have adopted the law.
Kaduna: The two wives I married last year are pregnant, but they can’t go for antenatal
In Kaduna State, the strike has not been totally effective because only the federal health institutions are fully affected. NARD President, National Eye Centre, Dr Sadiq Suleiman said members of the association in federal health institutions in Kaduna State have complied with the directive by the association since Monday, August 2. The strike is being felt at federal facilities like the National Eye Centre, Kaduna, National Ear Care Centre, Kaduna, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Kaduna and Ahmadu Bello Teaching Hospital Zaria. But some doctors stood in to bridge the vacuum created by the striking doctors.
However, resident doctors at the state-owned facilities like Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital, Kaduna, have continued to render health services. President, Campaign for Democracy, Bako Abdul Usman, decried the continuous strike by the NARD over the inability of one party to fulfil its part of the bargain entered into about a decade ago thereby subjecting Nigerians to unnecessary medical torture.
“The strike is hitting me badly. I got married to two wives at the same time in 2020, and both are pregnant as we speak. But with this strike, antenatal is becoming an issue around me with two expecting mothers in my care,” he lamented.
Patients lament at Enugu, Nnewi hospitals
Patients at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH) Nnewi, are presently at the crossroads as resident doctors in the hospital are on strike like their counterparts in other parts of the country. A patient at the Orthopaedic Ward of the hospital, who gave her name as Ngozi, told Saturday Sun that she was admitted in the hospital last Saturday; adding that since Tuesday, August 3, no doctor had attended to her. She said the situation was already worsening her condition.
“The strike is already telling seriously on the hospital and patients in different wards. Majority of the patients have been transferred to private clinics in order to receive attention. Personally, I am contemplating leaving because I’ve not received adequate attention before the onset of the strike,” she said.
Another patient at the general ward, Innocent Ndubisi, however, said he was an outpatient but could not be attended to at the drug dispensary section. He said: “I was about to be discharged before the strike set in. I decided to pay my bills and leave the hospital, but to my greatest surprise, when I got to the dispensary, nobody was there to attend to me as at Tuesday. I returned today (Wednesday), yet, there is still nobody to attend to me.”
Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Dr. Joseph Ugbaja, was not on seat when our reporter visited, but a medical doctor who pleaded anonymity, said the hospital employed the service of consultants to keep the facility afloat.
“Resident doctors in NAUTH joined the on-going strike. Because the management of the hospital is not willing to discharge its patients or keep them stranded, we employed the services of consultants to attend to patients, as long as the strike lasts.
“Anybody insinuating that there are no medical services in the hospital is telling lies. Medical services are alive here. The only thing somebody can say is that there is always a delay in the dispensation of drugs and in attending to patients, because of less number of doctors.”
When Saturday Sun visited the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital (ESUT-TH), Parklane, Enugu, it was observed that only nurses were attending to patients as no doctor was around. One of the nurses said the strike had crippled major activities at the hospital while all intakes of new patients were temporarily halted.
“What we are doing is merely administering prescribed drugs to patients and helping out where we can. We are not taking in new patients for now,” she said. The correspondent also observed that two patients who were brought to the emergency ward of the hospital by their relatives were advised to search for a private hospital, as no doctor was available to attend to them. Daniel Okeke who was taking care of his aged, sick mother confirmed the position of the nurses. He said: “We have not seen any doctor since Monday, although the nurses are doing their best attending to the patients here,
“I am taking care of my mother here. She has been receiving all the drugs that were prescribed for her. I’ve not seen any new patient since the strike started. The only people who are being cared for are those who were admitted before the strike.”
The story was slightly different at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Enugu. One of the patients there, Jude Obisike, said though the consultants were offering skeletal services, the absence of resident doctors was still seriously felt by the patients. “I am tired here. The only people who come here are consultants and the nurses who you see everywhere. But the normal doctors who have been taking care of us have not come here since Monday.
“They came on Monday and prescribed drugs for us and left. For me, I just want to go. There is nothing like when a doctor is constantly checking on patients to know how he is progressing. I know the consultants are doing their best but they can’t attend us like the doctors who were with us all the time,” Obisike lamented.
Doctors desert hospitals in Yenagoa
The deserted registry of the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) was a vivid indication that the strike by the resident doctors was biting hard in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital. The registry that is usually a beehive of activities, with patients’ milling around waiting for their files to be located, was empty, even as interns sat on the seats that patients normally use. Some of the patients could hardly hide their anger. Judith Asaga, a patient, expressed his frustration to the reporter.
“This is a wrong time for this strike by doctors. I have been coming to the FMC regularly for follow-up visit and I am usually attended to by my doctor who comes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Today is his clinic day but I just got off the phone with him and he said he is not coming, that I should just go and buy my drugs or I wait for the consultant to see me. I am not happy about this development. I prefer him to see me, then tell me to go and buy drugs. This gives me rest of mind. This strike is not good at this time.”
Another man, Olaoluwa Atunwa, said his brother was at the hospital. “He is undergoing kidney treatment. We come for dialysis at the FMC. The nurses have been attending to us since we came but I also want the doctor to see him. The strike by the doctors is not helpful at this time. FMC is the major hospital where we all come for treatment as there is no other good hospital, and for us low income earners we cannot afford the private hospital. Sometimes they should consider patients before embarking on strike. The government also should listen to the doctors. How can doctors that have worked for four months, you say you are not going to pay them. It is not fair to say the least. Government officials don’t use these government owned hospitals. It is we the people that are suffering the effect of the strike.”
Another patient, Vincent Ofongo also shared his story: “My wife had an appointment with her doctor on Friday last week but we missed that appointment. Now we have been here today we would need to wait till the strike is called off or we use a private hospital. I am full of regrets now because I cannot afford a private hospital. I am confused on what to do.”
UCH discharges patients
The effect of the on-going strike has not spared the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, as well as the LAUTECH University Teaching Hospital in Ogbomoso, both in Oyo State. A visit to UCH by this reporter, revealed that no single patient was seen at the outer section of the Accident and Emergency Unit of the teaching hospital, which used to be a beehive of medical activities. Many of the beds in the units have all been packed to one side. But consultant doctors, nurses, and health attendants were on ground. One of them said a number of the patients in the unit had been taken to the wards within the unit, but visitors would not be allowed to disturb them.
A doctor at the unit said many of the patients have been discharged and referred to other hospitals, because of the strike, adding that patients that really need care from multiple specialities were the ones being attended to at the unit. At the General Out-Patient ward, a nurse told this reporter that consultant doctors in the unit have been attending to outpatients that were given appointments.
“The unit would not admit new patients until after the strike and the consultants that are working, there are number of people they can attend to per day.” At the Antenatal Clinic, some pregnant women were seen. But a nurse in the unit also told this reporter that new candidates would not be registered until after the strike, and that consultants have been attending to some of the registered pregnant women. One of the patients that had been discharged, who introduced himself as Mrs. Adeola Ajimoti, said: “I was taken to this hospital before the strike began. I had a severe ache all over my body. I went to a private hospital and when there was no improvement, my children took me to this place. They have said we should go to another place because of the strike. I told them that they should let me go to the State Hospital at Ring Road because of money.
“I cannot afford a private hospital. They are too expensive for me and my family. But they did not refund the money my children paid.” Another patient in the hospital, Mr. Zakariyau Adeyemo, said he was involved in an accident in his car. He said he was injured as well as his three-year-old boy, Abass. They were rushed to UCH.
“After I was stabilised at the Accident and Emergency Unit, I was taken to one of the wards. After some days, I was discharged and asked to be coming from home. My son was taken to Otunba Tunwase Children Emergency unit. The hospital is still attending to him.” On Thursday morning, a patient in an emergency situation was taken to the accident and emergency unit of UCH. But the people that brought the man were asked to take him to another health facility because of the strike. The President, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), UCH, Dr Temitope Hussain, told Saturday Sun: “The strike is still on-going and we are recording 100 per cent compliance at UCH on daily basis.
“Resident doctors constitute 95 per cent of doctors working in UCH. Only the consultants are working. House Officers are parts of ARD and they are also on strike with us.”