Patients who patronise public healthcare facilities in Nigeria are passing through harrowing period due to absence of resident doctors who had embarked on indefinite strike over what they described as unfair labour treatments.
The doctors under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), who constitute larger percentage of doctors in public healthcare facilities withdrew their services two weeks ago in response to inability of government to meet their needs which mostly bordered on improved salary package and other working conditions. As a result, skeletal services are being provided for patients in various public hospitals in Abuja and other parts of the country, as only Consultant doctors offer services in the hospitals.
However, it was gathered the some doctors, out of benevolence, have promised to adopt the telemedicine system for some of their patients, while some insisted they would stay away from hospital facilities until the strike is over.
Expectedly, patients who rely on public healthcare facilities are at the receiving end. In Abuja and environs, some patients said they were taken unawares by the action of the doctors while others said they heard about rumours of strike in the news media, hence they made preparations to patronise private health facilities.
At the FCTA-owned Asokoro General Hospital, Abuja, yesterday afternoon, many new patients were seen confused on what step to take to get health care services despite the fact that the strike had been on for close to two weeks. Amidst that, emergency cases, including accident victims were being reported one after another with little or no manpower to attend to the cases.
A patient, Alice Okhai, said she brought an emergency case to the hospital but was confused when she heard that doctors were on strike, meaning that no doctor was available to attend to them.
“But I could see few nurses and one or two doctors who were regarded as consultants. The patients are much and these consultants are few. How would they cope with the huge number of patients waiting for attention? That was the question I asked. Something should be done on this matter before we record more avoidable casualties. People are really suffering in this country but it seems government is not aware of this.”
Another patient, Mercy Plangnan, said she came from Suleija, Niger State, to get medical services but met the doctors on strike.
At the National Hospital, Abuja, Kelechi Ezechi said he was refered from Akwanga, Nasarawa State, to access a particular health service but was surprised to hear that doctors had withdrew their services. “I never knew doctors were on strike until I reached here. Someone had referred me to this National Hospital because of my worsening health situation, but I am disappointed that I could not get attention because doctors are on strike. I don’t know what to do next because I can’t afford the services of private health care facilities.”
Another patient, Lola Olufowobi, said she was on admission at Maitama General Hospital, Abuja, but had to leave few days into the strike as signs indicated that she was getting better.
The lamentations cut across various public hospitals in Abuja and beyond, notably, Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Jabi, Abuja; University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH), Gwagwalada, Abuja; and all the districts hospitals in Abuja, notably, Maitama, Wuse, Gwarimpa, Kubwa, Nyanya, Karu, Karshi and several others.
Meanwhile, the “fight” between government and the doctors took a new twist at the weekend when the striking doctors decided that they would embark on street protest nationwide beginning from Wednesday.
It is an indication that the discussion between the doctors and the Federal Government on best way to handle the issues in contest had failed. It was gathered that while the doctors have refused to shift ground on their requests, the Federal Government has also insisted that it would not do the biddings of the doctors.
The back and forth between the parties began two weeks ago when the doctors embarked on strike to demand improved salary package and other working conditions after the expiration of several ultimatums issued to government.
Two days into the strike, the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC), released a memo that indicated that President Bola Tinubu had approved 25 per cent salary increase for the doctors to pacify them to call off the strike while discussion continued on other issues.
But the doctors issued a statement rejecting the offer describing it as “paltry” and far from what they requested.
The doctors insisted that their earlier demand which was for full restoration of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (COMESS) to its right value as at the time of the approval of the structure in 2009, stands.
Last week Thursday, the Federal Ministry of Health released a letter that indicated that the “no work no pay” policy has been activated.
Dr. Andrew Noah, director, Hospital Services, Federal Ministry of Health, in the letter to heads of hospitals, informed them of the decision and directed that they open and maintain an attendance register for all resident doctors willing to work.
On Saturday, the doctors, apparently in response to the memo on “no work no pay” policy, notified the federal ministry of health in a letter of their intentions to commence daily mass protest nationwide beginning from Wednesday to, perhaps, draw global attention to their plight, and the inability of the federal ministry of health and other relevant stakeholders to resolve the issues that led to nationwide strike.
The doctors, in a letter addressed to the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, titled: “Notice of nationwide mass protest and picketing by NARD” vowed to picket the Ministry of Health, Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and all federal and state tertiary health institutions nationwide.
The letter added: “This has become necessary to press home our demands which have been largely neglected by the Federal Government. We are pained that rather than make genuine and concerted efforts to resolve the challenges that led to the industrial action despite repeated ultimatums, the Federal Government chose to demonise Nigerian resident doctors instead, after all their sacrifices and patriotism.
“We, therefore, resolved that it is time the whole world hear our side of the story, the decay and corruption in the health sector as well as the neglect the public health institutions have suffered all these years that led to repeated industrial actions. We believe that the government still has time to genuinely address the issues at stake before Wednesday, 9th August, 2023, or leave us with no other option.”
NARD President, Dr. Innocent Orji, told Daily Sun, that leadership of the association was yet to received any communication from the federal ministry of health regarding the decision to embark on mass protest nationwide from Wednesday. “As at Sunday evening (last night), no communication was received.”