The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has told striking doctors and other health workers to return to their duty posts, saying embarking on industrial action when Nigerians need them the most is not the best action.
According to him, his regime has a good track record of paying all debts owed to government workers, while giving the assurance that outstanding benefits owed to medical doctors will be cleared after verifications.
Buhari said this on Friday in Abuja while receiving members of the Nigeria Medical Association at the State House on Friday.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed this in a statement, titled ‘Embarking on industrial action at this time when Nigerians need you most is not the best action to take, says President Buhari to doctors.’
Buhari said, “The lives of citizens that could be lost or damaged when doctors withdraw services, are precious enough to be worth opting for peaceful resolution of differences.
“Protecting our citizens is not to be left to the government alone, but taken as a collective responsibility, in which especially medical professionals play a critical role. Let me speak directly to the striking doctors. Embarking on industrial action at this time when Nigerians need you most is not the best action to take, no matter the grievances.
“This administration has a good track record of paying all debts owed to government workers, pensioners and contractors and we have even revisited debts left by past administrations, once due verification is done. Debts genuinely owed to health workers will be settled.
“I learnt that some of the 12 points demanded in the ongoing strike were already addressed, though the review of a new hazard allowance has not been fully negotiated because of the sharp and deep division within the ranks of the striking doctors.’’
The President said the outstanding issue of an establishment circular issued by the Head of Service, removing House officers, NYSC doctors from scheme of service, had an addendum circular from National Salaries and Wages Commission to clarify that they will continue to earn the wages attached to them on their present wage structure.
“I request that the agreement reached in the meetings of 20th and 21st August captured in the MoU which I have seen be religiously implemented,’’ he added.
Buhari explained that he had increased the budgetary allocations of the health sector and had convened a Health Sector Reform Committee, under the chairmanship of the Vice President, to identify and address weaknesses in the health system and align with global best practices that raise public confidence.
“We are also supporting initiatives to expand health insurance coverage and bring more resources to health financing. We have many more challenges ahead and much more to do, for our large population.
“In this respect, it is important to remind you that, as senior medical personnel and representatives of one of the most respected professional groups in the world, your responsibility for the health and wellbeing of Nigerians are clear.
“It does not end only with the welfare of your members, but continues with a sense of responsibility for the entire country and its socio-political health and national stability,’’ Buhari said.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the NMA had been playing a critical role in the development of the health sector, particularly in tackling pandemics, participating in policy formulation and population health.
The President of the NMA, Prof Innocent Ujah, thanked the President for the appointment of members into strategic positions in government, assent to the Medical Residency Act and immunisation coverage.
Ujah said the association was concerned with the industrial action embarked upon by doctors and had been doing its best to alleviate the suffering of patients across the country while appealing for an urgent resolution.
NMA knocks OAUTH for slashing salaries of doctors on maternity leave
Meanwhile, the NMA has lampooned the management of Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital in Ile-Ife, Osun State over its random salary deduction of health workers who go on maternity leave.
The NMA, South-West Zone expressed concerns that the action had left a scar on many pregnant female doctors and health workers who, it said, are living in perpetual fear.
The South-West NMA Chairman, Dr Ogunlaja Oladayo, and the Secretary, Dr Bolaji Lateef Salako, said this in a statement, frowned on the ‘injustice’ meted out to the female health workers, including deprivation of call duty allowance.
Salako said, “We all know call duty makes up a substantial amount of our salary. If other health workers on maternity leave across the country are paid their full salary, why must OAUTH be different?”
The NMA caucus secretary called on the Federal Government to urgently initiate measure that would address the issue.
When contacted, the Osun NMA Chairman, Dr Razaq Akindele, corroborated Salako, reiterating that the association had been inundated with reports of doctors on maternity leave being denied their call duty pay and the nurses, their shift allowance.
“Credit must be given to the present OAUTH management, which has demonstrated a willingness to reverse the trend. However, to be able to achieve this, the Chief Medical Director said they need a go-ahead from the Federal Ministry of Health. That is how far we have gone as the medical body.
“What they are basically saying is that they don’t want women working in FG health facility to get pregnant. That itself is discrimination against women. The Lagos State Government has done well by showing exemplary leadership through extension of maternity leave from three to six months with full remuneration. FG must live up to its responsibilities,” Akindele said.
When contacted by our correspondent, the Director of Hospital Services, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Adebimpe Adebiyi, declined comment.
“I don’t have permission to speak with the media on this matter. You may need to talk directly with the honourable minister,” she said.
When contacted, OAUTH Chief Medical Director, Prof. Victor Adetiloye, asked our correspondent to send his enquiry via a text message.
He had, however, yet to reply to the SMS as of the time of filing in this report. PUNCH