By TONY EDIKE, SIMON EBEGBULEM, CHIOMA OBINNA & GABRIEL OLAWALE
Pregnant women, children, the aged and patients seeking care in public hospitals are bearing the brunt of the three-day warning strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD.
The strike was called yesterday to press for payment of outstanding salaries and allowances, and training opportunities for its members, among other demands.
In Lagos, the strike took most patients unawares as they arrived early to keep appointments at various clinics, as only skeletal services were available.
Activities at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Idi-Araba; Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba; National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi were severely hampered as most of the outpatient clinics, though open, were almost deserted as little or no activity was going on.
When Vanguard visited LUTH around 10a.m. yesterday, the Accident and Emergency ward was shut, and new patients were turned back.
The Ante-Natal Clinic and Children Out Patient Department were also bereft of activity as there were no doctors attending to patients.
A woman, who simply identified herself as Joyce, said she, her aunt and baby were at the hospital as early as 7a.m. only to be told that doctors were on strike.
She said: “My aunt has been inside with them. The consultant has only attended to few patients on appointment. Others were asked to go back home.”
At the Ear, Nose and Throat, ENT, department, few patients on appointment were seen being attended to by a consultant.
Several pregnant women waiting at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department of LUTH said none of them had been attended to. One said she arrived at the hospital by 6:30a.m. but was still waiting to be attended to by 1p.m.
A similar scenario was on at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi, Lagos, where only senior medical consultants, nurses, ward aides and other auxiliary staff were seen attending to patients in the wards and the Accident and Emergency unit of the hospital.
The outpatient clinics were open but devoid of the usual activities. A hospital source disclosed that contingency measures were in place to cushion the effects of the strike.
At the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital Yaba, dozens of patients booked for appointment, left the hospital premises in annoyance after waiting for long hours without getting attention, while a few patients were observed sleeping in the waiting room.
Some of the patients that spoke to Vanguard said they had no choice than to wait until they were attended to. Such was the case of one Mr. Kunle Ibukun, who accompanied his mother to the hospital.
One of the consultants, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained of being overworked.
He said: “As you can see, I have to attend to two patients at a time. Patients whose cases are not too serious are asked to come back but we believe that very soon everything will return to normal.”
Speaking to newsmen, President, LUTH ARD, Dr. Omojowolo Olubunmi who disclosed that the industrial action at LUTH was in line with the NARD’s three-day warning strike, also explained that the strike at LUTH was indefinite.
He said: “It is just coincidence that our strike coincided with the three-day warning strike called by our national body, but the strike in LUTH is indefinite and we have decided not to back down until our demands from management of LUTH are met.
“We decided to resume our strike due to lack of appreciable progress in our negotiations and deliberations with the hospital management on the issues raised. We have found ourselves left with no other choice.
“We are gravely concerned about the impact the astronomical increase in hospital charges is having on patients and this is also affecting our training as resident doctors, as many patients cannot afford these fees.”
Olubunmi, who spoke to Vanguard shortly after a meeting of the hospital management and other workers of the hospital, said although they had made little progress in their negotiations, the contentious issues they are demanding for are yet to be touched.
He said: “To show human face, we have allowed our house officers to work in conjunction with consultants. At least, to take care of patients already on admission but we are not admitting new patients.”
LUTH’s Chief Medical Director, Professor Akin Osibogun, who stated that the strike was not in the interest of the patients, declared that the hospital was still open for patients.
Osibogun, who defended the management’s stand on some of the outstanding issues with ARD, urged the warring parties to exercise patience.
He said: “The hospital is open and running. I will just appeal to anybody who is contemplating a strike to consider the interest of the patients even if there were inadequacies. Going on a strike cannot help the patients.
“If you want to help the patients you continue to provide services and discuss with appropriate management level so that we improve on what we are doing. So it is not a strike that is likely to be in the interest of the patients.”
Igbobi, Yaba, Yenagoa
President of ARD, National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos, Dr. Akindele Akinta-yo, said the doctors can only attend to emergency cases.
On his part, President, ARD-Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Dr. Olusegun Akinwotu affirmed that if their demand is not met, there is tendency of embarking on an indefinite strike come July 1, as earlier directed by their national body.
In a related development at FMC, Yenagoa, services were grounded as doctors stayed away from their duty posts.
Also taking part in the strike were members of the Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU, at the FMC, Yenagoa, over non-payment of promotion arrears.
Dr. Ugoeze Asinobi, Chairman, FMC, Yenagoa chapter of NARD, said members of the association complied with the directive of their national body.
Mr. Simon Barnabas, an executive member of JOHESU, said the unions were compelled to embark on a warning strike over non-payment of promotion arrears.
He, however, regretted the hardship faced by members of the public and appealed for understanding.
The University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH, complied with the warning strike, unlike their counterparts at the Benin Central Hospital, who shunned the action.
Vanguard observed that consultants took over responsibilities of resident doctors at UBTH.
President of the Association of Resident Doctors, UBTH branch, Dr. Goodluck Imoudu, said the warning strike achieved hundred percent success, saying “it was a directive from the national secretariat and we must comply.
“But as doctors, we do empathise with our patients. So some resident doctors have to properly handover their cases to consultants. We had to do that so that the patients will not suffer.”
Vanguard, however, observed that the doctors were at work at the state-owned Benin Central Hospital. A source close to the resident doctors explained that “this is just a warning strike. We believe that the life of the patients are more important. But we are hoping that the matter will be resolved amicably.”
Chioma Ukandu, a patient, appealed to the government to intervene and resolve the grievances of the workers.
Ukandu said: “I am surprised to find out that workers are on strike, even as health workers are supposed to render essential services. The feuding parties should consider the health of members of the public and resolve these issues without delay.”
However, in sharp contrast, normal services were maintained at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Enugu; National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu, NOHE, and the Enugu State Teaching Hospital, Park Lane, as doctors ignored the call to embark on strike.
An official of NARD, UNTH chapter, said that the union would hold a rally today to review the strike action and thereafter take a decision on whether or not to join.
NARD is demanding parity in salary between doctors and other health workers as well as skipping of grade level 12, failure to produce a blueprint on residency training in conjunction with the associa-tion and other stakeholders, which would consist of all aspects of residency training, including local training modules, funding and overseas attachments, among others.