Paralysis in Public Hospitals

Onyebuchi Chukwu

Activities in public hospitals nationwide are paralysed as doctors begin an indefinite strike to press home a 24-point demand

By Chinwe Okafor |  Jul. 7, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

PANIC, lamentation and passionate appeal sum up the reactions of many Nigerians across the country as member of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, started an indefinite strike July 1. The medical practitioners embarked on the strike following the expiration of a 14-day ultimatum given to federal government by the union to honour the 2009 agreement it entered into with their association.

The medical doctors said in a press statement signed by Babatunde Bamigboye, Lagos State Chairman of the NMA, that the association raised 24 issues for resolution, which the government had refused to address. He added that their demands border on salary increment, establishment of a health trust fund for the upgrade of public hospital facilities, swift passage of the National Health Bill, and a universal coverage for all Nigerians as against the 30 percent coverage advocated by the National Health Insurance Scheme.

Empty Ward at a Lagos hospital
Empty Ward at a Lagos hospital

Other grievances of the NMA has to do with the retention of the post of  Deputy Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee; and the opposition to the appointment of directors in the hospitals. Bamigboye said the other aspects of the demands had already pitted the association with other professionals like the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria. The age-long rivalry with the PSN and other groups in the medical field is, perhaps, the biggest highlight of the statement. Moreover, the NMA stoutly has opposed the extension of the consultant title to any other professional.

According to him, the NMA was opposed to the application of the title of  ‘consultant’ to any other health worker in a hospital setting. He said since the title is used to describe the relationship between the specialist medical doctor and his patients, it would  be a source of confusion if it is now applied to any other health worker who statutorily does not own a patient. He added that the NMA therefore declared with unmitigated emphasis that if ‘non-doctor’ consultants were appointed, it would lead to chaos in the health sector and this should not happen.

The NMA also disapproved of the appointment of any other professionals to the position of   Chief Medical Director, as provided for by the Act establishing tertiary hospitals. “Why did they not ask that the post of vice-chancellor be open to everyone in the university, since ASUU and SANU members are made up of graduates? Can you be a judge of the High Court or Court of Appeal if you are not a lawyer? Why do they think the hospitals, where lives are saved every day, should sacrifice the established leadership that is the Chief Medical Director?” asked Bamigboye.

As the strike persists, patients are forced to leave government established hospitals to seek for medical attention in private hospitals with their attendant high charges or even seek the aid of herbal practitioners. However, the efforts of the federal government to get the striking doctors  call off their action so far has proved abortive. A federal government meeting with the striking doctors in Abuja on Wednesday, July 2, ended in a deadlock. Pius Anyim, secretary to the government of the federation, reportedly met with the NMA officials led by Kayode Obembe, its president. Khaliru Alhassan, minister of state for health and Emeka Wogu, minister of labour, were also at the meeting. Obembe was quoted as saying later that the association had not reached any agreement with the government and that the strike would continue.

“We were able to go through the items; we are working out areas that can be concluded immediately. We are also working on other areas that may be delayed for sometime but the strike continues,” he said. However, Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, said the government was working towards bringing the strike to an early end. He described the strike action as unfortunate adding that the minister of state for health was on ground and was handling the situation.

Regardless of the excuse the NMA has to give for embarking on the strike action, its members have received several knocks for their selfishness. Olufemi Ismail, chairman, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, said the NMA was not broadminded or accommodating. “The NMA is just being selfish. The centre for management development is an administrative position. In other countries, we have individuals who are ministers for health and they are not even from the medical line. The NMA should be more broadminded and accommodate other professionals,” he said.

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