Strike: Patients groan as FG, doctors’ talks deadlocked

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The hope for an early resolution of the ongoing strike called by doctors working in government hospitals dimmed on Wednesday as a meeting between the Federal Government and the Nigerian Medical Association ended in a deadlock.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim, on Wednesday met with the NMA officials, led by its president, Dr. Kayode Obembe, which also had the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Khaliru Alhassan and the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Emeka Wogu, attended the meeting.

Obembe told one of our correspondent on Wednesday night in Abuja that the NMA officials also met with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa along with Senator Chris Ngige but said 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.

The NMA had on June 14 given the government a two-week deadline to meet the doctors’ demands, failure which a strike action would follow.

Reports across the country indicate that there was a near-total compliance across public hospitals in the country.

At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, and the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, services were at skeletal level, just like in Ibadan, Oyo State; Ilorin, Kwara State; Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; Akure, Ondo State; and other states.

The Chairman of the NMA in Cross River State, Dr. Callistus Enyuma, vowed that his members would not return to work until government met the 24 demands of the association.

The NMA, among others, is demanding the creation of the office of a Surgeon-General of the Federation as well as a review of doctors’ salary scale “to reflect relativity in international best practices.”

The NMA also wants the retention of the post of Deputy Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee. It also opposes the appointment of directors in hospitals; asks that the consultant title be restricted to medical doctors; as well as the immediate adjustment of doctors’ salaries to reflect the relativity as agreed and documented once Consolidated Health Salary Structure is adjusted.

“Until these demands, which I must tell you are 24, are met, we will not admit new patients. However, all the patients who have been in the hospital and whose cases were serious would be attended to,” the Cross River NMA boss said.

At the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital and other General Hospitals in Cross River State, health services have slowed down drastically as the indefinite strike entered its second day.

When one of our correspondents visited the hospitals on Wednesday, it was observed that nurses and other health workers only attended to patients who were not in critical conditions.

Patients in critical conditions and in need of doctors’ attention were being moved to private hospitals.

In Rivers State, the government said it had entered into partnership with eight private hospitals to give free medical care to patients registered under the Free Medical Care Programme of the state.

The State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Sampson Parker, who said this at the Government House in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, explained that the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the state government with the private hospitals was a crisis management strategy to alleviate and ameliorate the effects of the nationwide industrial action on the people.

“These hospitals will offer services to women in labour, accidents, surgical intervention. You can imagine a woman, who has been attending the Braithwaite Specialist Hospital, and her due date for surgery is near; you cannot allow a woman like that to go into labour.

“We have decided to hand over such persons to qualified medical doctors in the private sector so that we don’t suffer many casualties. The arrangement continues as long as the strike persists.

“It is actually a crisis management strategy. When the strike is over, the patients will return to government hospitals.”

Meanwhile, the Abia State branch of the NMA has threatened to drag their members in the private sector to join in the industrial action if the government fails to heed their agitation soon.

The association’s chairman in the state, Dr. Gad Uzoaga, who made the threat in an interview with journalists on Wednesday in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, said the striking doctors had refrained from asking their colleagues in the private sector to join the strike because of their patients.

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