Lagos — HARDER times await patients seeking medical care in any Lagos State-owned hospital as doctors under the aegis of the Medical Guild embark on indefinite strike.
The doctors who are under the employment of the Lagos State government had earlier suspended a three-day warning strike from April 11-13, 2012.
The Lagos State Government, in its reaction yesterday described the strike by doctors as malicious, ridiculous and unnecessary, saying it was aimed to discredit the state government.
The latest strike, which commenced with immediate effect, yesterday, has, for the second time within a fortnight, put the fortunes of healthcare delivery in the state in jeopardy. Consequently, there are virtually no doctors on duty to attend to hundreds of patients who besieged the health facilities in search of essential healthcare and in some cases, life-saving health services.
It was a pathetic sight at some of the affected health facilities across the state, yesterday morning, when Vanguard visited. The situation at Lagos General Hospital in particular was rowdy as many of the patients who were caught unawares could not but expressed disappointment.
Pregnant women abandoned
The situation at the Island Maternity Hospital was more pathetic when scores of pregnant women who already had appointments with doctors were left unattended to. A nine-month pregnant woman, Mrs Chinenye Onuke, who had been scheduled to undergo Ceasarian Section yesterday, was in tears.
Chinenye, who told Vanguard that she left her residence in FESTAC, Amuwo Odofin, as early as 6.00 a.m to keep her appointment with the doctor, said to her dismay, she arrived only to discover there was no doctor on ground to attend to her.
Asked what her next line of action would be in the light of the indefinite doctors' strike, she said: "I have no money to go to private hospital. I do not know what to do. I am pleading with the government to give the doctors what they want to save us as women are dying from pregnancy related issues."
We want to make Lagos govt responsible -Odusote
Announcing the indefinite strike earlier in the day, Chairman of the Medical Guild, Dr Olumuyiwa Odusote said: "We have decided to embark on this strike to stop all the illegalities in the system. We want to make Lagos State Government responsible.
"We have supported this government because we thought it had an agenda to be responsible and at any point where we see that they are derailing, we will put them in order."
On why they refused to appear before the disciplinary panel set up by the state government, he said the panel was illegal and the doctors would not appear before an illegal panel.
"For professionals to be ridiculed in a country where there is law and order is not acceptable and that is why we are saying the Lagos State government must allow order to prevail, peace to return and must not forget its sole responsibility to protect lives and property."
Earlier, at the Health Service Commission, Lagos Island, where the doctors were expected to defend their queries, over 20 armed Police officers stood guard at the gates, causing some apprehension in the area.
In what seemed to be the commencement of a total face-off, the armed Policemen disrupted the congress meeting called by doctors in attempt to arrest Odusote.
As a result of the mass movement of doctors to the venue of the PMB sitting, activities in Lagos hospitals were temporarily disrupted as there were no doctors to attend to patients. As the doctors were holding a congress meeting, policemen were drafted to prevent the deliberation from holding but the adamant doctors later regrouped at another location for the meeting.
The police, who also got wind of the new venue, swooped on the doctors and prevented the meeting from holding, ordering Odusote to follow them to the Lion Building Police Station for questioning, an act that infuriated the other doctors who regrouped at another location and declared indefinite strike.
When contacted, Odusote who was later released, said the doctors had declared indefinite strike following government's harassment, saying that the indefinite strike was prompted by the action of the police who came to effect his arrest
The strike is malicious - Lagos govt
Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Aderemi Ibirogba in a telephone chat with Vanguard argued that the strike had no basis because the state government had earlier reiterated its commitment to provide quality welfare package for medical doctors on the state government pay roll.
The State Commissioner for Health, Dr Jide Idris who described the disciplinary panel as a purely administrative procedure said the government had not foreclosed the issue of dialogue.
On the contrary, he accused the doctors of issuing threats. "Right now there must be peace but they cannot continue like this." There must be rules, law and order. We would call them within the limits of the law."
According to him, "We will dialogue with them, there must be peace. A group of people cannot decide on what to do on their own. Before they went on strike, we begged them. There are other people in the health sector who have issues that are also being addressed.
"We are addressing the doctors' issues; why should they have to go on strike then? The issue is purely administrative. The government is fully committed to the health sector but government is constraint by resources. We will explore every avenue to resolve the issue on ground."
The doctors had threatened to embark on indefinite strike by the end of April if the state government did not meet demands but were forced to begin the action yesterday because of what they termed government's harassment doctors.
Effort to contact the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Aderemi Ibirogba for his reaction was unsuccessful as at press time as no one pick all the repeated calls to his mobile phone line.
On his part, President of the Association of Resident Doctors, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital branch., Babajide Saheed, stated: "It's unfair. It's very unfortunate that a democratic government could be so undemocratic; the strike was called by the association and not by the doctors given queries."
However, the doctors promised to suspend their action if the state government stops the alleged victimisation Lagos doctors and starts negotiations with them. Also responding to claims that there is no doctor to attend to patients, Idris said, "I can assure you hospitals will not be left unmanned. We shall do everything to ensure that patients are attended to." Medical Director of the General Hospital Lagos, Dr. Ahmid Balogun dismissed claims that doctors were not working. He declined knowledge of the congress adding that doctors at the General Hospital are attending to patients.
History of doctors' strikes
Doctors' strikes in the Lagos state health sector tend to be quite formidable. In the five years or so, doctors have embarked on strike too many times to recall, but many a time, the strikes by doctors employed by the Lagos State government have penchant to tear the fragile peace within the sector into shreds. Yet again, negotiations over the seemingly irredeemable differences between the Medical Guild and the state government, have collapsed.
In the eye of the storm has been the controversial Consolidated Medical Salary Structure, CONMESS. In September 2010, Lagos doctors embarked on a three-month strike to press home demand for payment of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure, CONMESS, the state government finally consented to the doctors' demands as Governor Babatunde Fashola approved 75 per cent salary increase for the aggrieved medical personnel. But that has not ended the face-off as the doctors demand full implementation of the CONMESS. Negotiations between the two parties have continued to hit a stone wall.