While President Muhammadu Buhari and other politicians could fly out of the country at any moment for medical treatment, patients that require emergency treatment at the Federal Government-owned hospitals could not even secure a folder to see doctors.
The strike by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) has paralysed medical care in federal tertiary hospitals across the country. Nurses, laboratory scientists and all other health workers, except doctors and dentists, have been on strike since April 17.
While doctors were seen attending to patients in the National Hospital Abuja Tuesday, the untold hardship and suffering of new patients who require emergency treatment have shown that doctors alone cannot run hospitals.
At the Department of Family Medicine in the National Hospital, Aminat Aliyu sat at the empty reception with her son who massaged her back. She has a lump on her left breast which caused her back pain. Her sister had gone to the emergency department to register her but there was no folder to provide patients.
When her sister returned to the family health department with only receipts, the doctor who was taking down the names of patients who wanted to see a doctor asked her to go back to get a folder.
Unfortunately, the hospital has run out of folders and the locum staff said they did not know where to get new folders.
Aliyu was referred from the National Defence College clinic to see an oncologist at the National Hospital but the strike would delay her chance to get a reprieve.
A staff of the hospital told the ICIR that they have stopped admitting patients on emergency since the strike started.
However, a doctor at the emergency department reception said they had never turned back any patient deliberately.
“We don’t reject patients. It depends on the management team to decide whether to keep a patient or refer her to another hospital,” she told the ICIR.
In various departments of the hospital, doctors were attending to patients but the patients were compelled to do laboratory tests and purchase drugs outside the hospital.
A patient who has neck injury told the ICIR that she came to show her doctor the result of her x-ray.
She said the doctor told her that she would undergo surgery but that would not happen untill the strike is called off.
The five health sector unions that make up JOHESU embarked on strike to press home their demands. JOHESU comprises Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI), Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) and Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria.
JOHESU said the government had failed to implement the agreement that was reached in September 2017 after suspending a nationwide strike. the agreement reached on the 30th of September, 2017.
The agreement originally had a time frame of five weeks, according to JOHESU.
Parts of JOHESU demands include an upward review of the CONHESS salary scale, arrears of skipping CONHESS 10, employment of additional health professionals, implementation of the court judgment and upward review of retirement age from 60-65.
Isaac Adewole, the Minister of Health, said that 14 of the 15 demands made by JOHESU in September last year have been fulfilled while the last demand was still being addressed.
The minister insisted that JOHESU’s demand for equivalent salary with medical doctors was neither practicable nor acceptable, adding that an offer has been made by the Federal Government to adjust the salaries and wages of JOHESU members.
A meeting last Thursday between government officials and JOHESU ended in deadlock. Ogbonna Chimela, National Vice Chairman of JOHESU, said the government failed to meet their demands.
“The government is saying they don’t have the N22.6 billion needed to settle the yearly implementation of the CONHESS adjustment and they are offering something lower, but JOHESU does not agree. We are still strongly relying on the 30th of September agreement with the government,” Chimela told the Premium Times.
“They are saying they don’t have money and we are saying they should go and look for money because we entered this agreement with them collectively. It was not under duress. Initial, we gave them five weeks and that five weeks has turned into seven months and are yet to do anything that is why we are insisting that it is now or never.”
The initial plan by the Federal Government to invoke the ‘no work no pay’ rule on the striking workers failed, leading to setting up of a ‘high-level committee’ to reconsider JOHESU demands.
While the Federal Government and JOHESU continue to lock horns, patients have been the losers.
And the frequent medical trips of the President to London even in the midst of chaos in the country’s health sector is sending a wrong signal to Nigerians.
“It is a shame that the President is using tax payers’ money to take care of his health outside the shores of this country,” Laz Eze, a public health expert told the ICIR.
“He doesn’t appear to care a hoot about what ordinary Nigerians are going through.”