FG threatens NARD as doctors begin strike after agreement

• If you don’t agree, you don’t sign an agreement, Ngige tells doctors

• FG proposals not new –Resident doctors

• Hospitals reject non-emergency cases

• Resident doctors are foot soldiers, strike will affect hospitals, says director

The National Association of Resident Doctors’ strike hit tertiary hospitals in the country hard on Thursday as they were overwhelmed by a large number of patients, many of whom were not attended to.

The PUNCH correspondents, who monitored the strike, which began on Thursday, observed that although the health institutions deployed consultants in attending to patients, the specialists could not cope with the number of patients who thronged the hospitals.

In some hospitals, where consultants could not cope with the heavy workload, patients, whose cases were not emergencies, were turned back.

But as resident doctors in Kano, Osogbo, Port Harcourt, Jalingo, Gombe, Enugu, Ibadan,  Lagos and other parts of the country joined the strike, the Federal Government expressed anger over the industrial action, which began a few hours after the NARD signed an agreement with government.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday,  threatened that government would decide the fate of the doctors, if they refused to call off the strike before the weekend.

Recall that the NARD, an association of doctors undergoing residency training,  had on Sunday said it would begin  “a total and indefinite strike” on Thursday (yesterday)  if the Federal Government refused to accede to its demands.

Among others, the doctors are demanding payment of salaries of house officers and an upward review of their N5,000 hazard allowance.

The strike was effective in hospitals despite efforts by the National Assembly as well as the Ministry of Labour and Employment to prevent it.

Relatives withdraw patients in Kano hospitals

At the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and the National Orthopaedic Hospital, both in Kano, the strike paralysed activities.

Some relatives of patients on admission at the National Orthopaedic Hospital withdrew them from the hospital.

A relative, Mallam Sani Abdullahi,  told The PUNCH that many patients were evacuated from the hospital on  Wednesday in anticipation of the strike.

He said most of the patients evacuated were on admission at the Spine and Rehabilitation Centre.

Abdullahi stated, “Some of the patients evacuated were removed from the facility by their relatives who have the wherewithal to take them to private clinics.

“Other patients were also withdrawn from the hospital due to their critical conditions because their relatives cannot leave them in the hospital without proper medical attention.”

At the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, Osun State new patients were not admitted while consultants took over management of old patients from the striking resident doctors.

It was also learnt that some old patients that had already been stabilised were discharged because of the strike.

The Chairman of the NARD, OAUTHC chapter, Dr Kusoro Simeon, in a chat with The PUNCH, said the complaint with the strike had been total.

Also at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, one of our correspondents observed that consultants and nurses were overwhelmed by the high number of patients as resident doctors in the hospital joined the strike.

The Chairman of the hospital Medical Advisory Committee, Princewill Stanley,  in an interview, stated, “Activities will slow down. The fact remains that this gridlock means patients will have to stay longer than expected.”

Patients turned back in Taraba

The Taraba State chapter of the NARD also joined the strike.

When one of our correspondents visited the state’s hospitals in Jalingo,  the state capital,  and its environs, patients were being turned back.

The Chairman of the NARD in the state, Dr Gabriel Ahmed,  in an SMS  sent to one of  our correspondents, said, “We are also on strike.”

Resident doctors are foot-soldiers, their strike will affect hospitals – Gombe CMD

At the Federal Teaching Hospital, Gombe, there were long queues of patients as only consultants were attending to patients.

The Chief Medical Director of the hospital,  Dr Abdullahi Yusuf, said consultants had been drafted to the emergency unit to ensure the running of the facility.

He stated, “Resident doctors are the foot-soldiers that drive most of the activities going on in the hospital.  Definitely, the strike will affect the normal day-to-day activities of  the hospital.”

The PUNCH correspondents, who visited the Lagos University Hospital, Idi-Araba; Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja;  National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi and the Federal Neuropsychiatry Hospital, Yaba, observed that only consultants were attending patients who thronged the hospitals.

The NARD  chapters in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, all in Enugu enforced compliance.

A residents doctor at the UNTH, who doesn’t want his name mentioned, told one of our correspondents that a fine of N5m  would be imposed on any doctor that sabotaged the strike.

A patient,   Sunday Eze, said he went to the UNTH to see his doctor, but was turned back because there was no doctor to attend to him.

At the University College Hospital, Ibadan, it was learnt that only old cases and new ones that were regarded as emergencies were attended to,  while others were told to come back.

The PUNCH correspondent observed that only consultants were attending to patients.

The Public Relations Officer of the UCH, Mr Toye Akinrinlola, said, “The effect of the strike by the resident doctors is not biting at the UCH because we have a contingency plan and all our emergency units, including accident and emergency and ante natal units, are active.”

The South-West Caucus leader of the NARD, Dr Taofeek Sanni, appealed to patients to show understanding with the resident doctors, saying the industrial action was in their quest to improve the standard of public health delivery.

Sanni, who works at Federal Teaching Hospital, Ido Ekiti, said that the resident doctors, out of concern for their patients, had handed them over to consultants.

The president of the NARD in the Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital, Dr Olaniyi Olaoye, said the strike action was necessary to compel government to address the challenges facing quality health care delivery in the country.

Strike begins few hours after FG, NARD agreement

But before the doctors began the strike, government had on Wednesday night signed a memorandum of action with them.

The agreement was signed after a seven-hour meeting between the government side and the leadership of NARD at the office of the Minister of Labour and Employment.

Briefing journalists on the meeting outcome on Thursday morning,  Ngige assured that all the things written in the MOA “will be implemented.”

He said, “Twelve hours is a lot of time. Everybody will be working; Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria will be working and hopefully by tomorrow (Friday), you will experience the payment as agreed here for the second category of doctors (an overflow of the MDCN quota). We hope it must happen tomorrow and continue.

“So, by the time the Chairman of the CMDs comes up with his final list and harmonise it with MDCN, we won’t have issue anymore over this payment or whether some doctors have not been paid.”

Ngige explained timelines had been attached to the implementation of all issues raised by the doctors.

FG to decide striking resident doctors’ fate weekend

The  Federal Government took a swipe at the doctors over the strike, which it alleged violated the agreement.

Ngige, in the telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday,  threatened that if the resident doctors remained adamant by the weekend, government would decide their fate.

He stated that the doctors acted in bad faith by proceeding on their strike action after the agreement they signed.

Nigige said the government was surprised that the resident doctors could still proceed on their strike after agreements were reached on all their demands

He said, “You should be asking them (the resident doctors) what went wrong. They signed an agreement that we had with them.  It is called a memorandum for action.

“We took all the items one-by-one and had an agreement on each item and we agreed to reconvene in the next four weeks to know the degree and level of implementation.

“We agreed on everything.  There is no point we did not agree on. Get a copy of the agreement and see what I am talking about.”

The minister said at the close of the meeting when the agreement was signed, the representatives of the NARD gave him the impression that they were still meeting on the agreement.

He added, “It (the strike) is in bad faith which I am ready to concede to them that they don’t know the implication of what they have done in labour parlance.

“They have come for conciliation. Their trade dispute has been apprehended. Agreements have been reached and they reneged on the agreements. How the thing works is that if you don’t agree on anything, then you don’t sign an agreement”

When one of our correspondents asked if the government would be considering no-work-no-pay, the minister said it had not reached that stage.

He however said a decision would  be taken by weekend if the strike continues.

He explained, “We have not reached that (no-work-no-pay) stage yet.  People’s lives are involved. Their own is not the same with teachers in universities who can claim that they will teach day and night to cover lost grounds.

“This one is that if you don’t treat a patient, the patient dies and you can’t bring the person back to life. If by this weekend, they are still pressing on with their strike, we will look at all the labour laws and the options available to government including but not limited to enterprise; the employers trying to protect their enterprise and the lives of their patients.”

When asked to explain how that would play out, the minister said, “It is the Ministry of Health which is their primary employer that will bring that out. I am not their primary employer.”

On his part, the Minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, said the Federal Government was working to address the demands of the striking resident doctors.

Mamora, during the unveiling of the modular theatre complex and amenity wards at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, said some of the demands of the doctors were not the government’s fault.

He said, “We have some lingering issues which are not necessarily the government’s fault. One of the things we know of government generally is bureaucracy and this is part and parcel of government everywhere.”

Mamora cited the payment of house officers’ salaries as one of such issues.

In announcing the commencement of the strike on Thursday morning, the resident doctors had assured Nigerians that their action was not meant to hurt them.

They gave the explanation in a message posted on the association’s Twitter handle, @nard_nigeria, on Thursday morning.

The message read, “Nigerians must understand that we love them and the strike is not intended to hurt them but to challenge the Nigerian government @MBuhari @Fmohnigeria @LabourMinNG whose responsibility amongst others is to care for her citizens and labour force to do the needful.”

The union’s President, Dr Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, also confirmed to Channels TV that the strike had commenced by 8am Thursday, despite the agreement the association signed with government.

Giving an update on the meeting, Okhuaihesuyi who led the NARD delegation, said the government’s proposals were not new.

He said the decision to go on strike was for the benefit of all health care workers.

He said, “We had a meeting with the Minister of Labour from 4pm (Wednesday) till about 12am this (Thursday) morning.”

According to him, the NARD is insisting on the implementation of all its demands as contained in its strike notice.    ,,

Olalekan Adetayo, Friday Olokor, Adelani Adepegba, Dayo  Ojerinde, Tukur Muntari, Bola Bamigbola, Dennis Naku, Raphael Ede, Abiodun Nejo, Justin Tyopuusu, Chima Azubuike and Akin Aboluwade

PUNCH

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