May 3, 2020

Enugu Resident Doctors’ Strike: Conspiracy beyond consulting rooms

By Ezekiel Nnaji

Medical doctors are society’s important professionals whose duties revolve around saving lives. The Hippocratic Oath further underlines the responsibilities of doctors. The duties are always placed above material gains.

This is not to say, however, that employers must not consider their welfare. Governments give priority attention to the wellbeing of medical doctors and other healthcare workers, who receive special consolidated salary packages in Nigeria.

In turn, medical practitioners are encouraged to devote their time and energy to the works they do.

There has always been a debate about the ethical and moral right of medical doctors to embark on strike actions.

In truth, it will amount to enslavement to deny them the right to embark on strike actions. It is their fundamental right.

Going on strike is the last resort by doctors because any such action usually results in avoidable deaths and suffering.

Without any shred of doubt, any such industrial dispute hugely and negatively impacts on the quality of healthcare services.

These are trying times for various nations and governments that battle to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Doctors are among the frontline medical personnel, who are doing an awesome job and putting their lives at stake to save others.

This is where the strike action embarked upon by the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology Teaching Hospital, Parklane comes into focus. For once, this is one case where the employee, and not the employer, becomes the target of attack from the public.

From the motor parks to homes and the social media, people are lampooning the doctors for choosing to go on strike at this time that their counterparts in other states are working assiduously to fight COVID-19 pandemic.

For the ARD leadership in ESUTH-Parklane, it is not the time to play politics with human lives. It is nothing but the lamentable conspiracy outside the consulting room by the ARD leadership, particularly at a time Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had just paid a novel COVID-19 allowance to all health workers, which represents 25 percent of their basic salaries. Government also approved a life insurance package for doctors and other health workers in the state.

These were in addition to other proactive safety measures that the governor instituted on March 27, 2020.

Earlier, government had released the sum of N330 million to the state’s multi-sectoral rapid response team to battle the pandemic.

It is deeply worrisome that the resident doctors decided to go on strike, ignoring an existing National Industrial Court injunction restraining them from embarking on any strike action. The good news, however, is that the consultants, nurses and other categories of the workforce are at their duty posts in Parklane.

The resident doctors are taking government for granted, and care less about people’s lives.

They were part of a meeting that Governor Ugwuanyi held with representatives of organised labour and all health sectors in Parklane on April 8, 2020.

For proper understanding, it is necessary to bring to our people the briefs of what some of the leaders said at that meeting. These views have been widely reported and can any of them deny what is credited to him?

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Speaking on behalf of consultants, Dr. Joseph Enebe, said: “We want to thank you (governor) for what you have been doing for our hospital (Parklane) and for the status that you have brought to bear on Parklane. The consultants said that I should convey to you that they will continue to render their professional service.”

On his part, Comrade Igbokwe Chukwuma Igbokwe, Chairman of Joint Negotiating Council in Enugu State said: “We will not be tired of commending you (governor) for all that you have been doing for workers in our state.

Even during the time of the last recession, you paid our salaries even when other states with higher allocations could not do so. I suggest that we set up a committee to look at the emoluments and other issues in Parklane, and in our health sector in Enugu state.”

At the meeting, President, Association of Resident Doctors at ESUTH-Parklane, Dr. Emmanuel Edeoga said: “We want to say that our members are ready to continue to work. It is very clear that you (Ugwuanyi) has the interest of workers at heart. I want to appeal to others to allow His Excellency to do what he has been doing for Enugu State.”

Following these interventions, the meeting set up a committee to holistically look at the emoluments of the health workers and the need assessment of ESUTH-Parklane. The committee which has members from all the health sectors and the state government was given one month to carry out the assignment.

The questions, therefore, are: what has changed between April and now to warrant the resident doctors to embark on strike? Why are the resident doctors impatient to wait for the outcome of the committee’s deliberations?

At a time that the state government and the residents are doing so much to contain the spread of COVID-19, why would these doctors choose their personal benefits over the overall health of the people?

My candid advice to the resident doctors is that they should go back to their duty posts for the sake of the people.
• Nnaji, a public affairs commentator, writes from Trans Ekulu, Enugu.