By Chioma Obinna, Suzan Edeh, Gbenga Ariyibi, Gabriel Olawale, Bosede Oyelohunnu, Chris Ochayi & Rachael Izokpu

It was a pathetic situation in all federal and state-owned hospitals across the country as services were shut down by medical doctors, leaving hundreds of patients, who turned up for appointments, hopeless.

Women, children and men who turned up at the hospitals, irrespective of their conditions, were left unattended to.

The situation in the hospitals was so bad that in some, nurses and pharmacists took over the duty of the striking medical doctors.

ABANDONED: ABOVE: The children ward of Agbowa Primary Health Centre, Ikorodu, Lagos, yesterday.

In some hospitals, out of frustration and pity for the patients, medical directors were forced to take over the consulting rooms in a bid to ensure that patients who desperately needed medical attention had some form of treatments.

However, the Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU, yesterday took a swipe at Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, over its ongoing strike and advertorial it placed in the media advising Federal Government to stay action on its agreement with it, warning of imminent crisis in the nation’s health sector.

From the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH; Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Ebutte-Metta; Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH; Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba; Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Teaching Hospital, Bauchi, to Federal Medical Centre, Bida, the situation was the same.

There was total shut down of services by the striking medical doctors under the auspices of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA.

The strike which many patients described as unpopular was, however, effective against public appeal.

At LUTH, many patients suffered more humiliation, despite the condition of their health. New patients were rejected outright as not even a single doctor from the cadre of House Officers to Consultant was around to attend to patients.

Lamentations was the order of the day in the various wards; patients on admission continued to recount their woes.

Some of the patients who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, for fear of being victimised, said they were worried about their fate should the strike continue beyond a day, while others quickly discharged themselves and headed for private hospitals.

The beehive of activities the hospital’s Accident and Emergency, AE, is known for was absent. Departments, such as Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Surgery, Paediatrics, Medical Out- Patients Clinics and Labour, were devoid of activities.

Other patients who spoke to Vanguard, lamented that strike was becoming too frequent at government-owned health facilities, noting that they (patients) were always at the receiving end.

For them, strike should not be experienced in a sensitive sector as health, contending that strike in public hospitals was usually to the detriment of the average Nigerian who could hardly afford to pay private hospital bills.

A victim’s tale
One of the patients, who simply identified himself as Mr. Kenny whose wife was admitted a day before commencement of the ongoing strike, said: “It is unfortunate that both the government and doctors are taking our lives for granted.

“I brought my wife here yesterday (Monday), only to be told that doctors are on strike today. Her sickness is somehow different and cannot be left in the hands of a nurse or student doctor.

“The doctor that is supposed to see to her case is not even near the hospital. We have no choice than to consider a private hospital for to continue her treatment.”

At the Federal Medical Centre, Ebute- Metta, healthcare services were completely shut down.  Patients on admission were asked to vacate their beds, while new patients were not admitted.

A staff of the hospital, who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, said they started discharging patients as early as 8a.m., since there were no doctors to attend to them.

He said: “Some patients left on their own in annoyance, while others who did not leave were forcefully referred to Military Hospital, Yaba. The hospital has also made arrangement to move some patients with a functional ambulance because the directive is that all patients must be evacuated.”

At Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, the message was clearly written as patients were turned back right from the hospital entrance gate. Inside the hospital, no patient was seen; only a few were sighted in the various wards.

However, Vanguard gathered that the hospital was planning to discharge all patients to avoid any casualty.

At LASUTH, where majority of the new patients who were turned back from the various Federal Government health institutions took their cases, they got the shock of their lives as they were also told that doctors in the hospital had also joined the strike.

At the hospital, only nurses were seen attending to patients who refused to leave.
One of the patients who brought his son to the hospital told Vanguard that the same doctors who refused to attend to him in the hospital called him to come to his own private hospital.

The patent said: “We have already made payment but since they are on strike there is nothing I can do. I believe if I get there, he will show some level of understanding.”

One of the nurses who also spoke on condition anonymity said: “Some of these doctors have private hospitals so anytime they embark on strike, they are always happy because they will move patients to their various hospitals.

At the Neuro-Psychiatric, Yaba, the scenario was completely different as the Chief Medical Director, Dr. Rahman Lawal, and two other doctors were on ground to attend to patients.

No patient was turned back when Vanguard visited the hospital. The out-patients department was in full session.

Vanguard gathered that the three doctors resumed work as early as 8a.m.
Some of the patients who spoke to Vanguard thanked God for the doctors. Mr. Kunle Ibitoye, who accompanied his wife, said they had been at the hospital as early as 8a.m. but were yet to be attended to due to the large number of patients.

In Bauchi, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Teaching Hospital, ATBTH, was partially grounded as only a few patients were seen around the premises. Many patients with minor ailments were discharged, while those in critical conditions were given medical attention by nurses.

Suleiman Abubakar, whose wife had typhoid fever, said he was moving her to a private hospital where she could receive treatment.

Acting Chief Medical Director, ATBTH, Dr.Yusuf Jibril, said the hospital was only attending to patients with critical conditions, adding that those with minor ailments had been discharged, in line with the directives of NMA.

In Minna, Niger State, doctors in the state complied with the directive of NMA. When our correspondent visited Minna General Hospital, no doctor was found on duty, except for nurses who were taking care of  patients.

Chairman of NMA, Niger State chapter, Dr. Isah Alhaji, told our correspondent that the strike was total across the state.
The situation was not different in Ekiti, Abuja.

The issues
NMA had gone on strike following the expiration of the two-week ultimatum given to the Federal Government to address their 24-point demands. Their grievances are pegged on increase in allowances, appointment titles and positions, skipping of grade level and 21 other demands.

Others are contained in a statement by the national body of NMA: “The position of Chief Medical Director/Medical Director must continue to be occupied by a Medical Doctor as contained in the Act establishing the tertiary hospitals. This position remains sacrosanct and untouchable.”


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