The federal government has threatened to hire ad-hoc doctors with salaries of the striking resident doctors.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, gave the hint during a Channels Television programme.
The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) began a five-day warning strike, on Wednesday, over unmet demands.
The association is, among other things, demanding increment in the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure to the tune of 200 per cent of the current gross salary of doctors; new allowances included in its letter to the Minister of Health on July 7, 2022, on the review of CONMESS; payment of the 2023 Medical Residency Training Fund; payment of salary arrears and consequential adjustment of the minimum wage.
Ngige said the striking resident doctors were crying wolf.
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He also said the NARD was disrespectful to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), which was already negotiating with the government on its behalf.
“The resident doctors are part of NMA. They are young doctors in training. So if the NMA is negotiating on their behalf as the parent body, what these young people (resident doctors) are doing is disrespecting the NMA. They are crying wolf when there is none,” he said.
Situation in states
Meanwhile, the five-day warning strike has disrupted health services across health facilities in the country.
Our reporters observed that there was total compliance to the strike by members of NARD.
At the National Hospital Abuja, people needing attention at the General Out-Patient (GOP) unit were turned away but services were offered at the emergency unit of the hospital by consultants and house officers.
The general outpatient unit was also empty of the usual crowds because of the strike. However, those for surgery were being offered services.
The reporter observed that there were still patients in the various wards of the hospital.
The spokesman for the hospital, Tayo Haastrup, said the hospital would weigh the medical care required by patients on admission and start discharging some of them.
He said as a result of the strike, the hospital has also cut down on the number of people it had been taking in for admission due to the absence of resident doctors, and the workload on consultants and house officers.
The situation was also the same at the Maitama District Hospital in Abuja. The outpatient department was empty but the emergency unit offered skeletal services.
Resident doctors at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), Kano State also joined their counterparts in observing the warning strike.
During a visit to Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), Kano, Wednesday morning, Daily Trust gathered that patients were asked to vacate.
“We were many here lined up in anticipation of being attended to. They had started attending to us when they just came out and told us that they were not going to see children and they can only attend to 20 patients and close,” said Umar Yahaya who brought his child to the family medicine section (GOPD) of the hospital.
Also speaking, Safiya Ilyasu who brought her child for medication said, “I don’t even know what to do. This is where I take medication and have medical consultations for my children. They said they are not even going to see children. As you can see, my daughter is in pain.”
Speaking to Daily Trust, the Chairman of ARD, AKTH branch, Dr Haruna Yakub, said the compliance level at the tertiary hospital was 100 per cent.
Asked if the association was not worried about the impact the industrial action could have on the patients, Yakub said as much as they were worried, not driving home their concerns through the warning strike would just be akin to postponing the evil day.
“The government needs to be sensitive not to even allow us to go on this strike. The problem is that if we don’t go on this strike now, it will just be a vicious circle, just postponing the evil day. The impact on the public and our patients will even be worse if we didn’t go on the strike because we are overworked, there is serious infrastructural dilapidation and the welfare of our doctors is poor, and people are leaving. So we need to address this on time,” he said.
“It is more dangerous to be overworked than continuing to be seeing patients; you will do more harm to the patients. Now that there are no people working in the hospital, patients will look for alternative hospitals in the interim because it is just a five-day warning strike.”
Also, patients seeking medical services at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Teaching Hospital (ATBU-TH) groaned over the strike.
When one of our correspondents visited the hospital, he observed that only a few nurses were on the ground attending to patients.
On his part, the ARD Vice President of the ATBU-TH, Ahmed Isa Suleiman, appealed to the patient’s to bear with the situation as the ARD and hospital management had made necessary arrangements in case of emergency.
Consultants overwhelmed at UMTH
Meanwhile, consultants have taken over services in University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) owing to the strike.
Our correspondent who visited the hospital only noticed the consultants and senior nurses providing skeletal services at various units of the hospital.
One of the consultants who spoke to Daily Trust said the strike came at a very wrong time when the hospital was recording a high influx of patients due to the serious heat wave in the state.
“You can see for yourself, the patients are everywhere. Whichever department you go to, you will see them in large numbers with limited manpower attending to them.
“What we do now is taking care of the serious and follow-up cases before attending to new ones if time permits. The federal government should implement those demands so that the strike should fester” he said.
Patients, caregivers and relatives were seen groaning at the hospital due to what they described as a lack of care.
Speaking with Daily Trust, the Chairman of ARD, UMTH branch, Dr Usman Abdullahi, said his members complied with the directive from the national headquarters by embarking on the strike.
“UMTH is one of the largest in the country, but we are only 270 resident doctors, overwhelmed with work, and still facing serious brain drain due to the government attitude toward us” he decried.
President of the resident doctors at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Dr Artu John, who was sighted around the hospital, said he was there to monitor compliance by my members.
Daily Trust observed that most people who came to the hospital for medical attention were disappointed.
“I have to go back and seek an alternative in a private hospital because I learnt this strike will last for five days,” said a patient, Othman Dauda.
Patients already on admission are the most affected as the consultants attending to them were few in number.
In Ogun State, there was total compliance at the Federal Medical Centre and the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, both in Abeokuta, the state capital.
A visit to the medical facilities showed that the resident doctors complied with the directive NARD.
The Chapter President of ARD at the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Aro, Dr Odubakun Kazeem, said patients were within the hospital premises with no resident doctors to attend to them.
Kazeem told our correspondent that the strike would linger unless the government attends to their demands.
There was also compliance at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH).
The UBTH ARD President, David Orhewere, said none of their members was on duty and that only consultants would see patients during the strike.
“At UBTH, our members had recommended on Sunday that the non-critical patients be discharged and that is the duty of the consultants because the patients are theirs in the first place.
“It is sad that strike has become the only language the government understands. We are hoping that it will be effective. Our members are in good spirit and committed to the cause,” he said.
The strike also crippled activities at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH).
Many patients that turned up for medical services were stranded as there were not enough medical personnel to attend to them.
A patient who simply gave his name as Lucky said that it took him several hours before he could be attended to by one of the management staff deployed by the hospital management to carry out skeletal services.
The UPTH Chapter ARD President, Dr Onua Author, told a radio station in Port Harcourt that resident doctors in the hospital joined the warning strike as a response to the directive given to them at the national level.
The Head of Internal Medicine at the hospital, Dr Datonye Alasia, said that the management had worked out modalities to ensure that services were provided by the hospital.
The situation was the same at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan.
The Chapter’s ARD President, Dr Abiodun Ogundipe, noted that the action was aimed at ending brain drain and improving the welfare of members.
“Patients wait for long hours to see a doctor because of shortage of manpower and because doctors are leaving for greener pastures,” he said.
Yobe doctors refuse to join strike
However, the Yobe State wing of the NARD has resolved not to join the strike.
The ARD President, Dr Mai Bukar Kalli, stated this after a meeting with the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Baba Mallam Wali, in Damaturu.
He said the administration of Governor Mai Mala Buni had been meeting most of the demands of the union, especially on the provision of state of the art equipment and improved condition of service.
Kalli said Yobe was one of the states recuperating from the effects of Boko Haram insurgency, which created setbacks to many sectors, including health, so joining the strike would only create more harm to the post-insurgency recovery process in the health sector.
He further said most of the members of the association in Yobe State were being sponsored by the state government let alone complaining of being abandoned as is the case in many places.
In his remark, the SSG commended the union, adding that the decision would save lives and help in improving the health sector in the state.
By Ojoma Akor (Abuja), Hamisu K. Matazu (Maiduguri), Yusufu A. Idegu (Jos), Peter Moses (Abeokuta), Usman A. Bello (Benin), Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt), Adenike Kaffi (Ibadan), Clement A. Oloyede, Salim U. Ibrahim (Kano), Hassan Ibrahim (Bauchi) & Habibu I. Gimba (Damaturu)