Hospitals are meant to be accessible to the general public at all times, but in Nigeria, it is the opposite, especially in government-owned institutions where healthcare services are frequently halted by industrial actions triggered by issues ranging from welfare packages, and quality of hospital equipment, among others. The recent strike action by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARDs) brings this to bear in Abuja Hospitals as patients were prematurely discharged to seek healthcare elsewhere. Kazeem Kolawole reports.
Visits to the National Hospital, Abuja showed that most of the patients were being attended to by nurses, and consultant doctors. In an interaction with patients seeking medical care in the hospital, some of them lamented the delay in getting healthcare.
A patient at the Surgical Out-Patient Department, Bulus Ishaku said he was waiting to be attended to as of 11 am since he arrived at 8 am.
“I came here at 8 am but I have not seen any doctor. They have gotten my details, but I am still waiting. I am having a serious headache so I will have to wait till they attend to me.”
Another patient, Sarah Abu who claimed ignorance of the strike said: “I just came to the hospital this morning, I didn’t know doctors are on strike, I am just hearing now.
“I have been here since, but they said we should wait that they will attend to us one after the other. Some people who were here with me have left,” she added.
Responding to the situation in an interview with African Health Report, AHR, the National Hospital’s spokesperson, Dr Tayo Haastrup said the resident doctors are on strike, but the management of the hospital is ensuring patients get necessary health care services.
“We might likely discharge some patients because of the strike but not that we will not accept patients in terms of emergency, but we will reduce the rate of admission. Also, for the patients that are due to be discharged, we have to discharge them at this time.
“The nurses are also around but because the resident doctors are a chunk of medical personnel in terms of their number, there is no way it will not have a very serious effect on attending to Nigerians who have health challenges. Though we have the consultants and nurses to fill in the gap it cannot be like when we have them around.
“The consultants and nurses should be overwhelmed, there is no way they will not be overwhelmed. Other hospitals transfer their patients to this place so it will take a toll on them,” he said.
While in Kubwa general hospital also located in the FCT, Abuja, only patients in an emergency unit were admitted and attended to as the premises look so scanty.
Some patient’s relatives said the doctor’s strike forced them to relocate sick families to private hospitals because they don’t want an interruption in medical care.
“I learnt about the strike on Tuesday which is why I quickly made arrangements to relocate my sick mother to a private hospital for uninterrupted medical care for her. I just came here for some medical transfer documents as requested at the private hospital.”
Maternity wards were also seen active as only pregnant women were being attended to at the Kubwa General Hospital.
The FCT President, Association of Resident Doctors, Kubwa General Hospital, Dr. Maruf Alao urged the government to call the doctors for negotiations regarding their demands.
“We gave the government an ultimatum and we have written a letter to the government on things to be done for doctors and the patients and one of the things is lack of infrastructure. As a medical doctor, it will not be fine if there is no equipment to work with and patients are dying before you.
“We are appealing to the government that we are also overwhelmed. The work of ten doctors is being done by one doctor. We have had a situation where a resident doctor was operating on a patient, and he collapsed because of stress.
“We need the government to call us for negotiations regarding the CONMESS, so we can render health services beyond what we are doing. The government should call us for negotiations,” he said.
On the no-work, no-pay policy to be implemented on the striking doctors as stated by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige on Tuesday, Dr Alao said “That was enforced in the past.
“You would remember three years ago, NARD was on strike and that was enforced, that is to tell you that we are ready. We are not challenging the government, we are fighting for what will be of benefit to Nigeria, so this is a sacrifice from us to Nigerians, we want you to come to the hospital and get adequate treatment with good facilities.
“We want you to come to the hospital and be treated by doctors that are not tired. Talking of no work, no pay is not going to deter us, we are going to move on to make sure that the right thing is being done.”
The National President, NARD, Dr Emeka Orji said, the Federal Government has not invited the association for negotiations regarding its demands.
“What they are looking at is that the Minister of Labour said he has called the Nigerian Medical Association to invite us, and he also said he has called the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, to invite us to a meeting but they have not invited us.”
Speaking during a briefing to commemorate the 2023 World Hypertension Day, the Minister of Health, represented by the Director of Public Health at the Ministry, Dr Morenike Alex-Okoh, said the leadership of the Ministry will as usual be engaging with the Ministry of Labour, relevant stakeholders and the resident doctors to resolve what the issues are. We hope that these issues will be resolved quickly.
“I cannot give you any conclusive response now, except to say the leadership of the Ministry and relevant stakeholders are meeting to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.”.