By Sola Ogundipe, Chioma Obinna & Modinat Amusat
Hard times await patients seeking healthcare services in Federal tertiary health institutions nationwide as the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, MHWUN, has made good its threat to embark on indefinite strike.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, has directed all medical doctors nationwide to remain at their duty posts to ensure uninterrupted services, particularly for emergency cases.
The strike, which began yesterday morning nationwide, took patients on appointment and on admission by surprise as many of them claimed to have had no previous information regarding the strike.
Vanguard investigations revealed that although normal healthcare services took off on schedule in some of the affected institutions in Lagos, such activities were interrupted a little after 11:00a.m. by aggrieved members of the striking unions, who claimed they were directed to enforce compliance in the various institutions.
It was gathered that lamentation and confusion from unsuspecting patients trailed the abrupt stoppage services.
It was a pathetic sight as the hopes of patients, who travelled long distances to honour scheduled appointments at the various clinics, and some of those who were booked for surgery and special diagnostic tests were dashed.
The story was the same in all the institutions visited on Lagos mainland from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, to the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi and Federal Medical Centre, Ebute Meta.
At LUTH, most of the outpatient clinics were deserted when Vanguard visited shortly after midday.
Only a few patients were seen hanging around the corridors of the clinics, discussing the development. But the entrances of the clinics were firmly under lock and key.
Although there was calm in most of the wards, only a few senior consultants were seen attending to patients.
Further investigation by Vanguard revealed that the central power supply had been shut down leaving only few isolated power generating sets to supply electricity to different units of the hospital.
Officials of LUTH’s branch of MHWUN could not be immediately reached, but were said to be within the hospital premises to enforce the strike.
It was also gathered that the health workers joined the strike after receiving a directive from the national body.
Further efforts to reach the hospital management were fruitless as they were said to be in a crucial meeting not unconnected with the development at the hospital.
Some of the patients who spoke to Vanguard at the hospital appealed to the hospital management and the Federal Ministry of health to wade into the matter for quick resolution.
Relatives of some of the patients are considering withdrawing their sick ones should the strike continued.
They further argued that nurses are closer to the patients than doctors and since the strike began they have had to take on the responsibilities of the nurses.
Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Makurdi, said through its Chief Information Officer, Mr. Alex Ohemu that skeletal services were being provided by the hospital despite the industrial action.
At the Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Ebute Meta, and Federal Neuro- Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, skeletal services were being offered, although many patients expressed their frustrations.
Reacting to the development, Chairman, Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals, Mr. Uzondu Eke, said although they were part of the union, they cannot paralyse activities and close down totally.
Chairman, MHWUN, in Lagos State, Mr. Femi Omoba, said the workers were aggrieved because of the delay in the implementation of their demands after the recent ruling of the National Industrial Court.
Also, Chief Medical Director of the University of IIorin Teaching Hospital, Prof. AbdulWaheed Olatinwo, yesterday, confirmed that the institution was providing skeletal services to save lives.
Members of MHWUN had embarked on the strike after the expiration of a 21-day ultimatum issued to government on August 1, to accede to the 10-point demand and agreements reached on May 10, 2012.
However, in reaction to the development, NMA, in a press statement jointly signed by the National President, Dr. Osahon Enabulele and Secretary-General, Dr. Akpufuoma Pemu, urged the doctors to remain committed to their God-given responsibility of offering quality healthcare services to the toiling and long-deprived people of Nigeria, in all public hospitals.
The duo further alleged that plans by were being made by some hospital support staff to prevent Nigerian doctors from providing healthcare services in public hospitals.
According to them, “while we have nothing against the right of people to determine how best to actualise their demands, we shall, however, not tolerate any attempt to obstruct medical and dental practitioners in the course of rendering their official duties.”
They further called on all Chief Medical Directors/Medical Directors to ensure sustained provision of clinical/healthcare services to Nigerians in their various hospitals, by providing adequate security, and ensuring access to hospital materials, equipment and other healthcare facilities in the hospitals.
They said: “Despite the fact that NMA’s several demands for institutionalisation of best practices, strengthened public-private partnership policy, professionalism and better working conditions for her members are yet to be attended to, we assure all Nigerians that NMA shall continue to promote professionalism, patient-centred care and development initiatives with positive impact on the health of Nigerians.”
Chairman of the Kwara branch of NMA, Prof. Mikail Buhari, said skeletal services were being provided in vital areas of the hospital.
The chairman said that medical doctors, nurses and other health workers were rendering medical services at the emergency department and attending to those on admission.