9 July 2014

Nigeria: Doctors' Strike Continues, Delegates' Meeting Deadlocked

Photo: Premium Times
Hospitals are short-staffed and as doctors strike.

Abuja — Striking members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) dashed the hope of many Nigerians by failing to call off the action at the end of their emergency delegates meeting attended also by representatives of the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) in Abuja on Tuesday.

They insisted government must pay all outstanding arrears owed them among other earlier agreed conditions.

The emergency delegates' meeting began at 10.20 p.m. on Monday and ended by 3.45 a.m. on Tuesday.

The meeting was said to have ended in a deadlock "because delegates were divided over three major issues they argued government failed to give definite response to".

The contending issues include the doctors' demand that grade level 12 (CONMESS 2) in the health sector must be skipped for medical doctors and that no medical/dental practitioners should be on that grade level anymore.

The others are, that the title 'Consultant' in a hospital setting should not be applicable to non-medical, that if "non-doctor consultants" are appointed, it will lead to chaos and anarchy in the health sector as well as the demand for immediate payment of six months arrears of the corrected relativity for 22 years during which members were short changed.

Daily Independent learnt that delegates at the meeting were sharply divided over the issues, especially those concerning payment of outstanding arrears.

Some of them were reported to have contended that "unless we receive the alert of the payment on our phones, there should be no going back to work, because government has taken us for granted for too long".

Emerging from the emergency meeting, President of the MDCAN, Steven Oluwole, told newsmen that most of the issues at stake have not been sufficiently addressed by the government.

"The restraint and caution of the MDCAN should not be used to malign junior doctors to accept suffering and smiling attitude. Junior doctors are at the frontline of patient management. "They work endless hours in the hospitals. When government permits skipping support and administrative staff, who work less hours earn relatively more than the junior doctors.

"Sophisticated administrative and establishment arguments of why there should be no skipping for doctors will not placate doctors," Oluwole said.

Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, however, described the position of doctors as "unfair and unacceptable".

"Given the fact that government gave its assurance during the delegates' meeting it was concluding the finalities with the Ministry of Finance to pay the arrears soonest," the minister said.

Onyebuchi who was in Lagos on Tuesday regretted that "despite the fact that I was there personally around 11.00 p.m. to address them, our colleagues, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan also came in person to lend a voice; the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Okowa Ifanyi Arthur as well as the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Health, Ndudi Elumelu, were also there and pleaded with our colleagues.

"Since government has taken the action so seriously, and we are actually addressing them and most of the issues can be addressed through the usually administrative mechanisms, they should return to work but that has not happened," Chukwu said.

Explaining the position of government further, Chukwu said: "The President (Goodluck Jonathan) told us that he has already directed the Ministry of Finance that once we have an appropriation Act, she should do her utmost to see how we can begin to pay and we knew how long it took for the appropriation bill to become law.

"So, we pleaded that since we are working on it along with the Federal Ministry of Finance and because it was almost nearing the end of the journey that they should be patient.

"This is something that did not exist until January. It is totally new. To now demand this morning that the accrued arrears since January must be paid and until they have the alert on their phone they will not call off the strike is totally unfair and unacceptable," Onyebuchi said.

Also reacting, President of the Nigerian Society of Physiotherapists (NSP) Oyewunmi Taiwo, described the doctors' strike as "condemnable, selfish and unpatriotic to the course of Nigerian State especially at this period of national grief".

According to Taiwo, "the NMA did not explore the relevant platforms exhaustively before embarking on industrial action".

Meanwhile, Senate on Tuesday appealed to the striking doctors to call off the one-week old industrial action to avoid further loss of lives in the hospitals.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary made the appeal in response to Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Ifeanyi Okowa, who updated the Senate on efforts being made by his committee to resolve the strike.

Ekweremadu stated that continued absence of the medical practitioners from work posed a great danger to the system, as their action was seriously affecting the masses most of who could not afford the cost of treatment in private health facilities in the country.

"I would like to appeal to the striking doctors on behalf of the Senate to please consider going back to work because as long as they are on strike, the casualty will usually be the patients who are innocent of whatever agreement they had with government.

"It is important that they realise that their primary responsibility is to save lives.

"So we hope that you working with the rest of your colleagues and other interested parties that this matter be resolved as soon as possible so that they resume their usual duties and responsibilities to the patients.

"I hope that other doctors who are here (in the Senate) will also support your initiative to ensure that this matter is settled as soon as possible to enable the doctors return to their duty posts," Ekweremadu said.

Okowa had while raising a point of order on the issue explained that his committee met with the leadership of the NMA, an action, he noted, necessitated the setting up of a Presidential Technical Committee headed by Secretary to Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim.

He also explained that the technical committee, which also had members of the NMA as members, held a marathon meeting where the leadership of the striking doctors appealed to their members to offer emergency services in the specialist health institutions.

Okowa said while the NMA members had since resumed at their duty posts, offering emergency services to patients, the body had yet to officially call off the strike.

The Senator, however, assured that his committee would continue to mediate in the industrial logjam until all the contentious areas were resolved and the strike called off.

"The NMA said they would call their members back to offer emergency medical services and since Friday the 4th, they have directed all medical institutions to offer emergency medical services to Nigerians.

"Yesterday (Monday), we were at the emergency delegates meeting; the Governor of Delta State who also is a medical doctor, myself and the Chairman of the House Committee on Health, where we addressed the emergency delegates' meeting on the need to call off the strike.

"We did find that some of the circulars that they demanded had been issued but unfortunately the strike was not called off at the end of the meeting.

"I thought I needed to inform my colleagues that emergency medical services have been restored but I will continue with the negotiation along with membership of the Presidential committee to ensure that in the next few days we are able to get a resolution to the crisis."

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