The five-day warning strike embarked on by doctors under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has continued to disrupt health services across public tertiary hospitals in Nigeria.
PREMIUM TIMES reporters observed that health activities were largely disrupted in some hospitals in Nigeria’s capital city Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states on Thursday, the second day of the strike.
The doctors commenced strike in the early hours of Wednesday following the failure of the Nigerian government to meet their demands.
The doctors, among other issues, are demanding the immediate payment of the 2023 Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF), tangible steps on the “upward review” of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) and payment of all salary arrears owed its members, since 2015.
The doctors also want immediate massive recruitment of clinical staff in the hospitals and abolishment of the bureaucratic limitations to the immediate replacement of doctors and nurses who leave the system.
They also want the immediate review of hazard allowance by all the state governments as well as private tertiary health institutions where any form of residency training is done.
Although the Nigerian government said negotiation is ongoing to halt the industrial action, the doctors said they have not been contacted for talks.
The resident doctors comprise the bulk of medical personnel in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals; hence health activities are mostly crippled when they are on strike.
The ongoing strike has crippled health activities in some public hospitals in Ogun State, South-west Nigeria.
When our correspondent visited the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) and the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, both in Abeokuta, the state’s capital, he noticed that resident doctors fully complied with the directive of their national association.
At the FMC, some patients were reportedly handed over to consultants while some have been discharged to prevent morbidity owing to inadequate medical attention during the strike period.
Although some patients are still in the hospitals, there are not enough personnel to attend to them.
A patient, who identified as Adeola, was seen moving out of a ward with the help of her caregiver, Michael. Barely audible, she said she could no longer stay at the hospital.
“I can’t just keep staying here. With what I have seen since yesterday, I don’t think things can get better any time soon. Doctors were never enough for the number of patients but they are now nowhere to be found,” she said.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the chairperson of NARD at the FMC, Abeokuta, Osundara Tope, said the resident doctors had stopped caring for patients until the strike ends.
“We have handed over the care of patients to consultants and the nurses are in the wards to also assist them. Some of them may want to refer while some of them may want to manage the patients on their own. So, for some of these patients, I will just enjoin them that they can always liaise with consultants of the ward and see what can be done.”
Lagos University Teaching Hospital
At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), while some patients confirmed they are being attended to, relatives of other patients expressed dissatisfaction over the unavailability of doctors.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the paediatric department of the hospital, two patients’ relatives who were in the waiting room complained about the student doctors attending to them since the commencement of the strike.
Christiana Olatunji, one of the relatives, said that since her daughter-in-law delivered a premature baby on Thursday in Agbado, Ogun State, they have been to four different hospitals before they were referred to LUTH on Friday.
She said since the doctors’ strike commenced, they have been seeing different faces requesting different tests, while they still source blood for the premature baby.
“We were told the child needs blood, only for them to say the doctor is no longer available, and then nurses and student doctors took over,” she said.
“We have been doing different tests, and we have spent more than N500,000 since then.”
Similarly, the other relative, identified as Mrs Olatunji, said her biological sister who also delivered a premature baby in a private hospital in Lawanson area of Lagos, was referred to LUTH on Sunday.
She also acknowledged that the doctors who attended to them have stopped coming since the strike started on Wednesday, adding that she is afraid the student doctors aren’t yet qualified to attend to patients.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, the President of the Association of Residents Doctors (ARD), LUTH chapter, Kemi Abiloye, said the members have complied fully with the warning strike.
Ms Abiloye said apart from the general demands, LUTH does not have specific demands, urging the government to grant their demands accordingly.
“As long as we have adequate funding for the health care system, the hospital can function well, and when there is infrastructural development, people are happy to work in an environment they choose to work in,” she said.
Ms Abiloye emphasised that the government should also withdraw with immediate effect the “ill-conceived bill” seeking to compel medical and dental practitioners to practise for five years before considering relocation abroad.
She noted that “the existing issues contribute to the brain drain in the country, and it won’t stop until they are addressed.”
Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja
At the time PREMIUM TIMES visited the Asokoro district hospital, many patients were waiting to be attended to.
A patient, Chidi Moses, said he was unaware of the strike before leaving his house for the hospital.
Mr Moses said although he cannot afford a private hospital, he would have consulted one of the pharmacies around his environs for treatment.
“I came to the hospital this morning with the hope of seeing a doctor and get back to work before 12 p.m. but look at the time now, we are all still waiting,” he said.
Another patient who identified as Adebola said she travelled from Zuba to access health services at the Asokoro hospital.
She said although services are slow, she will wait until it gets to her turn.
“I cannot afford to visit a private hospital at the moment. So no matter how long it takes, I will wait,” she said.
At the (FMC) Jabi, skeletal health services were ongoing. Patients were still trooping in and out of the hospital with the hope of getting treatment.
Aside from the resident doctors, other workers were on duty to ensure patients get some required health services.
Sunday Alabi, a patient who had already received treatment, said he waited for a long time before seeing a consultant. Mr Alabi said so far he believes the hospital management is doing their best to ensure all patients receive adequate care despite the strike action.
The chairperson of NARD at the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Aro, Odubakun Kazeem, said patients in the facility were not being attended to by resident doctors.
Mr Kazeem said the strike would continue until the government meets their demands.
“I can confirm to you that we are complying fully. The strike is avoidable because most of the issues have dragged on for long. We have always demanded that the right things be done but the government fails to do its own part,” he said.
One of many
Health workers’ strike is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. These essential workers, especially medical doctors, under different umbrellas, have embarked on multiple industrial actions to drive home their demands.
The frequent strikes have continued to cripple the delivery of quality healthcare services in the country.
Before the doctors downed tools on Wednesday, NARD had, in January, issued an ultimatum to the government to resolve issues affecting its members, including the immediate implementation and payment of the new hazard allowance and arrears.
The resident doctors on 29 April further issued a two-week ultimatum to the government to meet its demands or face industrial action.
But the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, described the doctors’ demands as “absurd,” noting that the resident doctors are suffering from “entitlement syndrome.”
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