By Chukwuma Muanya
The health sector may be shut down next month, compounding the woes of Nigerians seeking healthcare as the umbrella body of all medical doctors in the country, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), with over 44,000 practicings/registered members and other affiliates, including the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), threatens to join the ongoing resident doctors’ strike, now in its 29th day.
Resident doctors under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), with over 16,000 members, had on August 2, 2021, started a nationwide industrial action to demand implementation of agreements reached with the Federal Government on payment of owed salaries and arrears, hazard allowance, residency programme, payment of life insurance benefits to families of members that died of COVID-19 among others.
But President of NMA, Prof. Innocent Ujah, after the association’s National Executive Council meeting in Benin City, Edo State, yesterday, told journalists in the event that the FG fails to implement the agreements after the expiration of its 21-day notice, NMA will be forced to declare a nationwide strike and join the resident doctors.
Ujah in a statement jointly signed by the Secretary-General, NMA, Dr. Philips Uche Ekpe, said the various industrial disputes involving the different affiliates of the association were exhaustively reviewed at the meeting and the association would not allow any doctor to be victimised for participating in the strike instituted by NARD.
This is coming as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Saturday night confirmed additional 53 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, raising the nation’s total fatality from the disease to 2,361. The new fatality figure, confirmation of the biting consequences of the third wave of the pandemic, ranks the highest daily fatality figure in more than a year.
Ujah said after due consideration, the National Executive Committee (NEC) put the Federal Government on the 21-day notice to fully resolve all the issues contained in the various agreements signed with affiliate members of the NMA including MDCAN, Medical and Dental Specialist Association in Basic Medical Sciences (MEDSABAMS) and NARD.
The statement read: “The NMA fully supports all her affiliates in their efforts to improve healthcare delivery in Nigeria and the welfare of her members. NEC affirms that no doctor shall be victimised for participating, or not participating in the strike by NARD. If the FG fails to implement the agreements after the expiration of the 21-day notice, NMA shall summon an Emergency Delegate Meeting to review the progress made on the implementation of the agreements.”
Reacting to the NMA’s position, yesterday, President, NARD, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, said: “We are not surprised that the NMA is on our side now and may join the strike. NMA is our parent body and no father or mother will allow his or her children to be maltreated and dehumanised the way the Federal Government is treating us.
“They have started implementing the ‘no work no pay policy even before the judgment of the National Industrial Court scheduled for September 15. The court was supposed to meet. They no longer pay us and that has made us angrier. We will wait. We will continue our strike.”
HOWEVER, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, has said it is illegal for doctors to expect to be paid when they aren’t at their duty posts.
Speaking at the weekend when Sam Jaja, chairman of the Forum of Health Institutions in Nigeria (FCHIN), paid him a visit in Abuja, Ngige said he will not support the demand of the doctors because it is against the law.
“The doctors want Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act not to apply to them, that we should insert in a government agreement that they should be paid for the period they are not at work. I am being careful about this,” the minister said.
“This is the law and I will not lend myself to illegality, to state in the agreement that a group of Nigerians is above the law. But as a matter of fact, a clause in that agreement states clearly that nobody should be punished for participating or not participating in the strike.
“So what else do they want ? They want me to put in writing that they are above the law. That ‘no work, no pay’ policy should not apply to them, that the ‘no work, no pay’ is no more part of our law, despite the fact that I swore to uphold the Constitution?”
MEANWHILE, The Guardian investigations revealed that private hospitals are booming as most public hospitals are no longer admitting patients and have discharged those on admission because of the resident doctors’ strike. It was also gathered that most surgeries have been postponed and those on the emergency list are fighting for their lives.
It was gathered that the cost of treatment at private hospitals is about five times what is obtained in a public facility and the cost may even go higher because of the pressure due to the strike. It was revealed that most private hospitals demand a deposit of at least N250,000 for any surgery on admission compared to less than N50,000 in public facilities.
Since the commencement of the strike, healthcare delivery in states and federal public health facilities remain epileptic with only consultants and corps doctors available in most facilities to cater to the health needs of the public.
NARD had commenced its nationwide strike after the three months it gave the Federal Government to implement the terms of the MoU it signed with the association in April had elapsed. Since the commencement of the strike, the National Assembly has made several attempts to intervene in the matter by holding meetings with the NARD leadership, but these meetings had produced no concrete result.
According to NARD Publicity Secretary, Dr Dotun Oshikoya, he accused the FG of being indifferent towards its demands, saying this had also frustrated the National Assembly, forcing it to “take off its hands” from the matter.
“The executive arm of the government is not doing anything to implement our demands, and the NASS can only be a mediator and make recommendations; they cannot do their work for them,” Oshikoya said.
The FG had issued a circular directing all Chief Medical Directors (CMDs) and Medical Directors (MDs) of state and federal hospitals, to open a work register for doctors. This directive implies that doctors yet to return to work will not be paid August salary, even as NARD claimed that the government was owing to its members in some state and federal hospitals salaries spanning between three months and one year.