Editorial

When doctors go on strike

 

Surely, any country where doctors frequently go on strike, the health status of citizens will frequently be on strike too. In our country, doctors do not hesitate to boycott the hospitals for different reasons ranging from conditions of service to work environment but the true tale of our unfortunate position is when you see policy makers and public officials, including the president, head offshore to acquire good health. This simply means our health system is in a parlous state. There is nothing yet to show we are planning to exit this shameful reality.

So when medical services were disrupted in most tertiary hospitals across the nation since Monday following the indefinite, nationwide industrial action declared by members of the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD it brought home the reality of a shaky health sector. The resident doctors’ action is sequel to the failure of the Federal Government’s negotiating team and the leadership of the NARD to reach an accord on some of the doctors’ demands. Note however that the NARD are doctors in training. Although in some countries like the United States resident doctors pay government to be trained, in Nigeria it is the other way round.

NARD’s work to rule has been frequent. This time, here are some of the contentious issues: the failure on the part of the government to rectify the shortfall in the salaries of the doctors; failure to circularise house officers’ entry point; stagnation of members’ promotion, pension issues; and non-capturing of members on the Integrated Personnel Payment Information System (IPPIS).

As expected, the strike has paralysed many government hospitals across the country. While negotiation with the striking doctors continues, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, was not happy with the way and manner the strike was declared. He  accused NARD of violating the provisions of Section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act of the Federation, 2004, by their indefinite industrial action. He also explained that the Trade Dispute Act stipulates that once the Minister of Labour has begun conciliation, no party in a dispute can take any action that violates the provisions of the law. He found an ally in the umbrella body of Nigerian doctors the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), who frowned at the strike.

We are opposed to this strike. Apart from the Hippocratic oath, the process leading to the declaration of trade dispute was not followed. Doctors, and indeed government workers must realise that striking must not be the first recourse whenever there are disagreements. People are dying in hospitals as a result of the fact that there are not enough doctors to attend to them. No doubt, incessant strikes in the health sector contribute to the nation’s failing health system.

On the other hand, the genuineness of the demands of the doctors is not in doubt. Government must take practical steps to address those demands so that the strike can be called off immediately.  The country cannot afford a health care sector that is bugged down by strikes, moreso, when we do not even have a decent health system. The little we have must not be stifled by strikes or government’s nonchalant attitude. Today, it is the resident doctors that are on strike; tomorrow it may be another category of medical workers. Already, other health workers are proposing to go on strike nationwide soon. This is one strike that the country can ill afford.  We say this because human life is directly involved. And, any life lost on  account of a strike is lost forever.

Going forward, government must also ensure that medical doctors and other healthcare workers are adequately remunerated to stem the rising tide of brain drain in the sector. No doubt, there is a correlation between brain drain in the sector and rising medical tourism by the political elites and the affluent in the society. To curb brain drain and medical tourism, government must muster the political will to put the health sector in the right shape.

The attitude by politicians to build empty but bogus hospitals should be discouraged. A good healthcare sector has more to do with quality of medical personnel and equipment plus medications than big walls. We seem to put more attention on big buildings than whats inside. One essential war the government needs to fight is the war against the decay in the health sector. Let this strike matter be addressed forthwith. While at it, there has to be a plan to regenerate our hospitals and medical personnel but more importantly we need to humanise our hospitals. The doctors and other staff are too draconian in relating with patients.

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