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Industrial action cripples medical system

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By Mercy Kelani

Resident doctors demand payment of arrears salary since 2015.

Health services in public tertiary hospitals across Nigeria have suffered disruption due to the five day long strike by doctors under the umbrella of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD). Hospitals in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States were largely mostly affected by the strike action. Doctors began the strike after the refusal of the federal government to meet their demands in the early hours of Wednesday. One of the demands of the association was an instant payment of the 2023 Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF).

NARD also requested that valid steps be taken on the “upward review” of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) and payment of previously owed salaries of its members, from 2015 till date. Recruitment of adequate number of clinical staff in the hospitals was also demanded. Abolition of bureaucratic limitations impeding instant replacement of doctors and nurses who exit the system was not omitted. Likewise, immediate review of hazard allowance by every state government and private tertiary health institutions where residency training is conducted was requested by NARD.

FG refuses demands of NARD but says negotiation is ongoing.

Although the federal government asserted that negotiation is going on to put an end to the industrial strike actions, the doctors’ association firmly stated that they have had no contact with the government regarding answers to their demands. At the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) and the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Abeokuta and the country’s capital, Abuja, there was strict compliance with the directive of the association. Resultantly, patients at the FMC were handed over to consultants while others were discharged to avoid morbidity due to insufficient medical attention.

According to the chairperson of NARD at the FMC, Abeokuta, Osundara Tope, resident doctors have halted attending to patients until the end of the industrial action. Patients have been handed over to consultants while nurses are in the wards to provide them with needed assistance. Consultants might consider referrals for some patients while some might prefer management of the patients on their own. Therefore, Osundara added that patients are advised to negotiate with consultants of the ward to know what steps can be taken concerning their medical condition.

Consultants attended to patients during doctors’ absence.

At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), some patients attested to the fact that they were not being attended to, while other patients and their relatives expressed worry over doctors’ absence. At the pediatric department of the hospital, relatives of two patients in the waiting room gave complaints concerning the student doctors answering to patients since the strike began. One of the relatives, Christiana Olatunji, stated that her son’s daughter was delivered of a premature baby in Agbado, Ogun State, on Thursday. Upon referral to LUTH, there have been different faces attending to the baby while they still source for blood.

Patients at the Asokoro district hospital affirmed the unavailability of resident doctors. Chidi Moses, a patient, said before going to the hospital, he was not aware of the strike. Coming to the hospital full of hope to see a doctor, Chidi was delayed for a long time without attention. Another patient named Adebola travelled from Zuba to Asokoro hospital to get health services due to her inability to afford a private hospital. She said she would wait until it was her turn, no matter how long it took. Mr. Alabi, a patient who was already attended to said the hospital was ensuring all patients are cared for regardless of the strike.

Recurrent strikes disrupt delivery of healthcare services.

In Nigeria, strikes by health workers is not an unusual phenomenon. Medical doctors who are very significant workers in the country, under different aegis, have carried out diverse industrial actions to get answers to their demands. These recurrent strikes have not ceased to disrupt the delivery of quality healthcare services across the country. NARD, in January, had given the government an ultimatum to provide solutions to issues affecting members of the association. On April 29, another ultimatum was given two weeks to follow, even though this was issued to the government, nothing has been done to date. According to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, “entitlement syndrome” is what is affecting resident doctors.

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