Exclusive: Collapsed doctor, Okorie, owed three months’ salary arrears

THE federal government owes the doctor who collapsed after working for 72 hours at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching  Hospital (UPTH) three months’ salary arrears, The ICIR has found.

Venatus Okorie is a houseman or house officer, meaning a doctor who is training while working in a hospital,  according to Encyclopedia. His January to March salaries have been withheld due to the feud between Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) and chief medical directors (CMDs) of tertiary health institutions in Nigeria.

In an interview with The ICIR, Okorie said he had not been paid a dime as emolument since January 1, 2021 by the government.

Venatus Okorie at the UPTH
Venatus Okorie at the UPTH. He reportedly collapsed after working for uninterrupted 72 hours.
Source: Linda Ikeji

He told The ICIR that he spent two weeks at the hospital after collapsing in February, 2021. His relations bore the cost of his drugs while the hospital footed his medical bill during the treatment.

Asked why he had continued to work despite his  experience over the past weeks, Okorie said he had no choice.

“Do I have a choice? I have to keep working because I don’t have another work. Time is going. I cannot waste time anymore,” he said.

Okorie works for a minimum of 14 hours daily because the UPTH is understaffed. He is not entitled to any off-day throughout the one year period that his programme will run.

“Doctors don’t have number of working hours. We keep doing it as the work keeps coming. As you can see me now, I am in the hospital working,” he told our reporter.

Housemanship enables the interns to acquire more practical knowledge by working in hospitals and getting paid. The housemanship programme is required to enable the doctors to participate in the compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. Experience garnered during the housemanship helps the practitioners to excel in places of their primary assignment.

Other doctors tell their stories

Apart from Okorie, Michael Brens is also having his housemanship at the UPTH. Unlike Okorie, he has been paid the three months’ arrears by the government, but still faces problems.

“It’s hectic. Going to work without being paid is something else. It’s strenuous,” he said while speaking with The ICIR in a telephone interview.

He said if the house officers refused to work because they were not paid, they would get punished.

Leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) came to assist house officers at the hospital by giving them N30,000 each when things were very hard for them. According to Brens, house officers were supposed to work  for 12 hours per day for the whole year of their housemanship, but they often worked for more hours.

“We come to work by 8 ‘0 clock in the morning. We are supposed to close to 8 ‘0 clock in the evening, but because of shortage of manpower, we end up leaving by 10 ‘o clock or 11pm. That should be more than 13 or 14 hours. House officers don’t do off, we work for the whole day,” the doctor revealed.

Meanwhile,  a resident doctor at the UPTH Onyiye Elekwa claimed she was owed six months’ salaries.

“I have not been paid. None of the resident doctors in any centre has been paid this year, but house officers in some centres have been paid.

“I have worked for 10 months and I have earned for only four months.  Initially, we were supposed to be earning via the GIFMIS platform, but when we came in, the hospital was having some issues. They did not pay us for the first three months,” she said.

NARD reacts

President of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi told The ICIR that there were many house officers who had bitter experiences during the period.

He accused some heads of public tertiary hospitals of refusing to submit the list of interns in their facilities to the MDCN for vetting and onward transfer to appropriate authorities for payment of their emolument – an attitude he alleged spanned three months. NARD is an umbrella body of medical practitioners that cater to the welfare and other needs of the interns in Nigeria.

His allegation was confirmed to The ICIR by chairman of House Committee on Health Care Service Yusuf Sununu, who chaired the meeting of stakeholders where a directive on immediate payment for the interns was issued.

Hospitals that have paid the house officers

House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila had convened a meeting of stakeholders which eventually made some resolutions on the crisis. The meeting took place between Tuesday, March 9 and Wednesday, March 10, 2021, at the National Assembly Complex.  It was headed by Sununu.

A major resolution made at the meeting was immediate payment of the trainee doctors.

The list of the hospitals that have complied with the directive are: Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital, Bauchi; University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin City; Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria; Federal Medical Center Lokoja, Kogi State; LUTH Idi Araba, Lagos State; and FMC Makurdi, Benue State.

Others are: National Hospital Abuja; FMC Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State; FMC Jabi, FCT; FMC Gombe;  FMC Bida; University of Port Harcourt, Teaching Hospital; FMC Asaba.

The list also includes: Jos University Teaching Hospital; FMC Gusau; Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano; University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital; FMC Ido Ekiti, Ekiti State; and Specialist Teaching Hospital, Irrua. List of all Federal Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria docx

Ministry of Health responds

Director of hospital services in the Federal Ministry of Health Adebimpe Adebiyi  responded to the claim of non-payment of house officers.

She said, “there has been much pressure on tertiary hospitals in the country and that many people are eager to work there. Where are the state hospitals? In some states, it is virtually the federal hospitals that are sustaining the health sector there. There is so much pressure that everybody wants to enter into the federal tertiary hospitals.”

Following the pressure, many of the hospitals employed people who were not captured on the IPPIS, Adebiyi said, adding that the doctors were eventually not paid because the platform on which hospitals could pay them had been suspended by the government.

The real issue

The ICIR had, on March 14, reported how rift between the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) and chief medical directors of public tertiary hospitals in the country denied house officers undergoing housemanship programme at the hospitals of their three months’ salaries.

Investigation by The ICIR revealed that the house officers had been engaged and paid by the hospitals until recently when the federal government took over the posting and payment of the doctors to avert alleged abuse.

Government’s decision did not go down well with the CMDs who then refused to forward the list of the interns to MDCN for vetting and onward salary payment.

According to Okhuaihesuyi,  there was a shortage of house officers which he said stemmed from the feud between the MDCN and the CMDs.

The rift “is more like a rift between the chief medical directors and the MDCN. Because of that, they have not paid the house officers for over three months. We have written to federal ministries of health and labour, speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate president,” he said.

After parrying questions from our reporter during a telephone interview, MDCN registrar Tajudeen Sanusi  said his organisation had no issue with anybody. He insisted he would not respond to our reporter’s question which sought his reaction on the issues.

After much prevarication, he said, “Do not force words into my mouth. MDCN did not say ‘transfer this to us.’ There were problems and government wanted to resolve these problems. That was why they said MDCN should take over. MDCN taking over is not that they give us money. No, our own is to scrutinise the list and forward to the Accountant-General Office where further action would be taken on the interns’ payment.”

“There are quotas allotted to these people. You see, if you have a quota of 40 and you go and employ 80, what do you want me to do? That is the situation. You have a quota.”

    Okorie’s experience shows that the end of the matter is not yet in sight.

    Strike enters

    Barring a change in the current frosty relationship between Nigerian doctors and the federal government, medical practitioners under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria (NARD) will proceed on strike on April, 1, 2021, to protest failure of federal government to pay house officers working in federal tertiary institutions across the nation.

    Notice of the impending strike was contained in a communique issued at the end of extraordinary national executive council (NEC)  meeting of NARD on Saturday, March 28, 2021.

    The NEC observed that its earlier ultimatum given to the federal government during a January meeting would expire by midnight on the 31st of March, 2021, “with no significant achievement.”

    Marcus bears the light, and he beams it everywhere. He's a good governance and decent society advocate. He's The ICIR Reporter of the Year 2022 and has been the organisation's News Editor since September 2022. Contact him via email @ [email protected].

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