The end to patients’ suffering may not be in sight as the ongoing strike by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), which was initially restricted to federal health institutions, has now been extended to states and local government areas.
The extension of the strike has left patients across the country with no other choice than to turn to quacks and other unorthodox sources for treatment.
The situation was the same all over the capital city, at the tertiary, secondary and primary health institutions across the Federal Capital Territory. At the Asokoro General Hospital, people were seen moving their loved ones out of the hospital as activities were crippled in the facility due to the ongoing strike by health workers. At the Nyanya General Hospital, a pregnant woman, Mrs. Okechukwu, said she had rushed to the hospital because she was bleeding. Though she was able to see a doctor, her worry is that if the strike persists, she may have no other option than go to a traditional birth attendant.“Since I came here and was told the nurses and midwives are on strike, I have been uneasy because I don’t have enough money to go to a private hospital. I am only praying God that they end the strike before my delivery date. “From my scan result, the doctor told me that I will give birth in two weeks, before or after 30th of May. So, if the strike continues till then, I will have to go a traditional birth attendant because there is one around my area since I cannot afford to go to a private hospital.” She laments.
In Lagos State, the story is the same. At the Lagos Island Maternity Hospital and Ogudu Primary Healthcare Centre, only doctors where seen attending to patients. This action has left patients who visited centres like the paediatrics, laboratory, pharmacy and eye centres within the stipulated hospitals, groaning as they wait endlessly to be attended to by doctors.
Some patients who could not afford the bills of private hospitals patiently waited for their turn to see doctors who now double-task wherever the need is greater.
One Mrs. Patience Monday, who registered with Ogudu Primary Health Care for antenatal/delivery care, said, “Today is my antenatal day and there is no nurse on ground to attend to us. My drugs are finished and from the look of things, I would need to buy them outside. “That is not even my challenge; my biggest fear is that if this strike lingers more than expected, I may end up going to traditional birth attendants to give birth since I am eight months pregnant. That is the only choice I have because I don’t have money to pay the crazy bills of private clinics.”
She pleaded with the federal government to reason with the health workers so they can call off the strike. “I need the government to call off this strike for the sake of my health and that of my baby,” she said.
Mama Shikirat has visited some hospitals in Lagos without being attended to. “On Thursday, I went to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) to give my child her six months immunization. I was told nurses are not on ground to attend to me. “I went to Island Maternity Hospital and I was told the same thing. Even when I went to the PHC closer to me on Friday, I was also told the same thing. I am so tired. My only prayer is that the health workers should call off the strike,” she said.
Another patient, Mr Adekunle Kayode, said he had been coming to LASUTH since Thursday to get treatment. “Even to get tested, so that I can know what is wrong with me is a problem. Nobody is attending to me. I told myself that today would be the last day I will come to the hospital and if I don’t get treatment, I would use alternative medicine to treat myself, after all ‘agbo sellers’ don’t go on strike.”
A medical doctor at LASUTH who spoke confidently said he and his colleagues are doing the best they can to attend to old patients and emergency cases for now, but that they do not have the manpower to attend to new patients. He said whenever new patients come, they would be told to come back in four weeks’ time in the hope that the federal government and JOHESU would have resolved the matter by then.
It will be recalled that JOHESU had directed its members at all tertiary health institutions to embark on strike from the midnight of Tuesday, April 17, 2018. The ongoing strike was extended to states and local government areas on Wednesday, May 9. In a telephone interview with our correspondent, JOHESU national chairman, Comrade Biobelemoye Josiah, said they embarked on the strike because government had failed to fulfil the agreement both parties signed since September 30, 2017, an agreement that would have been implemented five weeks after that day. He said, “It is six months today and government did not see the reason to fulfil its own part of the bargain. We also gave government 21-day ultimatum in February this year, and they did not also seize that opportunity to do the needful so as to avert the strike. “We, for the sake of Nigerians, gave another ultimatum for 30 working days, yet the government did not do any tangible thing.
Even when we narrowed our demand to just one – which is, the adjustment of COHESS for health workers.
“And if we can achieve that, we can then give the government some time to fulfil other demands, which are revamping the infrastructure in the tertiary health institutions and executing the report of the inter-ministerial sub-committee on critical matters in the health sector.
Others are Enhancement of Entry Point (EEP) for medical laboratory scientists and radiographers and payment of backlog of arrears. “Even when we narrowed our demand, like I said, to the implementation of adjusted CONHESS salary structure, government still failed to fulfill its own side of the bargain. So we have no other choice than to embark on the strike.”
Meanwhile, the president, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Francis Faduyile, has called on the federal government to ignore the strike by JOHESU, adding that it is not only an aberration that will add no value to clinical/patients’ care, it will certainly worsen morbidity and mortality indices in Nigeria.
Faduyile said, “We oppose vehemently any adjustment in CONHESS salary scale with resultant pay parity between doctors and healthcare professionals allied to medicine, and hereby reaffirm that relativity is sacrosanct.”
Faduyile noted that the demand for autonomy was part of the fight for professional ego by JOHESU, adding that government is reminded of global best practices in terms of the leadership of the clinical/medical team in which the physician is the head.
“Rather than accede to a demand that will lead to more preventable deaths, we urge the federal government to implement the recommendations of the Yayale Ahmed Committee on professional harmony in the health sector,” he said.
The federal government, on its part, has tried to resolve the issue by setting up a committee to look into the matter. There have also been series of meetings between JOHESU and the Federal Ministries of Health and Labour and Employment. However, the meetings all ended in deadlock.
After calling on JOHESU to call of the strike, the federal government threatened to enforce the “No Work, No Pay” rule. To make good the threat, a directive was given by the federal government for the salaries of members of JOHESU to be withheld for the month of April.
In the letter written and signed by the head, Department of Hospital Services, Dr. J.O Amedu, for the minister of health, the federal government said, “You will recall that JOHESU commenced a strike action on the midnight of Tuesday, April 17, 2018 despite all entreaties by the government for them not to.
“In line with provision of Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act CAP 18, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004, and the International Labour Organisation’s principles concerning employers’ right during strike in essential services, the federal government has invoked this provision and is therefore enforcing “No Work, No Pay” law on unions and associations who decide to embark on strike without consideration of government’s efforts to resolve their request.
This directive is the decision of a High Level Body of Government Stakeholders chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). “I am directed to inform you to stop the April 2018 salary of all JOHESU workers who have defied government by partaking in the strike. You are also directed to strictly keep the attendance register of all staff who are not partaking in the strike. As JOHESU workers in your institution are yet to be captured in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) platform, you are to implement this directive of government on your GIFMIS platform.”
Observers have, however, called on government to proffer a lasting solution to this problem between doctors and other health professionals which has been bedevilling the health sector in the country for the sake of Nigerians, especially the poor who cannot afford to go to private hospitals.