By Victor Ahiuma-Young, Chioma Obinna, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Gabriel Olawale
The Federal Government, Monday evening, ordered members of National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, to return to their duty posts immediately, summoning a meeting with the leadership of NARD for tomorrow, Wednesday, in Abuja.
Speaking through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, in a statement by the Deputy Director/Head of Press of the ministry, Charles Akpan, the government explained that six of the eight demands listed by the association had been met.
He said even with the lean resources available due to the COVID-19 effects on oil output and price, resulting in low revenue, the Federal Government had addressed majority of their demands, including Special Hazard and Inducement Allowances, and Group Life Insurance.
The labour minister reminded the resident doctors that “by the labour laws and the International Labour Organisation, ILO, conventions when issues are being conciliated, all parties are enjoined not to employ arm-twisting methods to intimidate or foist state of helplessness on the other party, in this case, their employers, the Federal Ministry of Health.
“There is a pending case in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, NICN, instituted by two civil society groups against NARD, the Minister of Health, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment.”
Consequently, Ngige advised the resident doctors to respect the country’s laws and withdraw the ultimatum issued to their members to down tools with effect from 8a.m., Monday, September 7.
The life insurance, according to the statement, “is not only for health professionals and workers but prepared also for all federal civil servants and public servants in federal organisations that are treasury funded.”
The minister said the Federal Government also appropriated N4 billion from the Special Intervention COVID-19 N500 billion 2020 Appropriation, for funding of Medical Residency Training and with intent to do same in the ongoing 2021 budget to be submitted to NASS for consideration.
He added that the N4 billion has been processed for payment.
“Other issues like the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital right between NARD and the authorities were addressed, while old issues not related to the COVID-19 period and issues of state governments not addressing the Consequential Minimum Wage Adjustments, and low patronage of Residency programme are work in progress,” he added.
Already, patients seeking healthcare services in different public-owned hospitals in Lagos were left stranded, as NARD members made good their threat to embark on a nationwide indefinite strike from Monday.
Recall that the doctors had, Friday, threatened to an indefinite strike over alleged government failure to meet their demands after the expiration of a 21-day ultimatum.
When Vanguard visited some of the public-owned hospitals in Lagos, although some doctors, especially consultants, were seen offering skeletal services, the patients who turned up in large numbers were turned back as a result of the strike, which was called over non-payment of life insurance, and other allowances.
Many patients who spoke to Vanguard at various hospitals in Lagos described the development as an act of wickedness on the part of the government and striking doctors.
From the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH; National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi; Federal Medical Centre, Ebute Metta; to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, patients were left unattended to.
Speaking with Vanguard at the FMC, Ebutte Metta, a patient, Mr Kunle Ademola, said that the recurrent strike was very disappointing as it is not in any way helpful for patient’s quick recovery.
He added: “This recurrent strike is very frustrating. The last time I came, they went on strike for some weeks before they called it off. Now, they have embarked on another strike.
“I hope they will reach a better agreement on time. Since the service I required was not an emergency I was told to come back. When will I come back? They can’t say.”
Reacting to the development, President, NARD-LUTH, Dr Jolayemi Judith, said that over 400 resident doctors in the hospital were fully in compliance with the national directive as regard the strike.
He added: “None of our members is going to render any service in whatever form. We appeal to the patients to bear with us while calling on the Federal Government to do the needful and move the nation’s healthcare forward. ”