A few days ago, a friend
expressed shock to hear that the nationwide strike action embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) nearly two months ago was still on-going.
Yes, for people who hardly make use of government health facilities, particularly Federal Teaching Hospitals, they may not know that only a handful of consultants and a couple of other health personnels had been attending to the health needs of millions of poor Nigerians who troop to the teaching hospitals everyday.
But the truth is that the latest strike action which the resident doctors started since June 3, 2015 to press home their demand is taking a toll on health care delivery in the country. For the past few days, Chief Medical Directors of many teaching hospitals have been in the news, calling on the striking doctors to suspend the industrial action and resume work in the interest of patients. They acknowledged that the trauma being experienced by patients as a result of the industrial disharmony in the health sector is so enormous.
This is a nation faced with the challenge of inadequate number of doctors. Recently, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, disclosed that no fewer than 35,000 medical doctors are presently practicing in the country in spite of its estimated population of over 170 million people. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that there should be one doctor, at least, to every 600 patients.
So it becomes worrisome when the few available doctors down tools regularly for all kinds of reasons. Just before NARD embarked on strike, several other health professional bodies like the Nigeria Medical Association, The Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) and others were also on strike. These industrial actions are no doubt having severe negative impacts on health care delivery in the country.
The questions then are, are the health care professionals getting too demanding? How much do the health care professionals in Nigeria really care for their patients?
The fact is that health care delivery is critical to the well-being of any society. Again, any reasonable doctor ought to place the interest of the patients above any other interests. Incidentally our health workers seem to be ignorant of these as typified in their incessant strike actions for whatever flimsy excuses over the years. For instance the current resident doctors strike is hinged on the failure of the hospitals management to fully implement the consolidated medical salary scale and commencement of payment of the Consolidated Health Salary Scale 2 to members, as directed by the Federal government.
Nobody is saying the doctors shouldn’t demand for better working conditions or improved welfare packages, but there should be other ways of achieving that, other than subjecting patients to unnecessary misery, pain and untimely deaths. Moreso, when there have been arguments both within and outside the health sectors that doctors are perhaps the best treated professionals in government establishments.
It must also be mentioned that the timing of the on-going strike is inappropriate. Coming just a few days after a new administration took over power, one might be asking how NARD intends to achieve its aim that way. Shouldn’t the ideal thing had been to allow the new government to settle down, appoint ministers that would over-see the ministries, who in-turn would have spear-headed the negotiations?
So in as much as one believes the doctors have the right to make their demands, there should be better ways of doing so which will not turn our hospitals to death chambers. May be it is high-time the Resident Doctors listened to well meaning Nigerians including the Dental Council of Nigeria, NMA, and Chief Medical Directors of various teaching hospitals, who have been appealing that they suspend the strike and resume duties.
However, one quite agrees that for us to get the best from our doctors and other workers in the country, their welfare should be given paramount attention. A situation where the workers are paid meagrely while politicians, particularly those at the National Assembly go home every month with bags of money is not encouraging at all.
It is also advisable that the current, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration should make upgrading of the decayed and dilapidated health infrastructure across hospitals in the country a top priority. It has been observed by some concerned Nigerians that the shortage of doctors in the country is as a result of massive exodus of medical professionals from Nigeria in search of greener pastures in foreign countries. So something needs to be done urgently to address this so that we have enough professionals working in our hospitals. It will also be in the interest of the country if the search light is beamed on the CMDs and management of various teaching hospitals so as to uncover the alleged corrupt practices going on there and sanitise the entire sector.