The ongoing strike by professionals in the health sector has left a bitter taste in the mouths of patients and stakeholders, Success Nwogu and Bukola Adebayo report…
When two elephants fight, the grass, they say suffers. This maxim is currently playing out in the nation’s public hospitals, following the nationwide industrial action embarked upon by all health professionals under the aegis of the Joint Health Sector Union in federal hospitals in the country.
In fact, the forlorn look on the face of Mrs. Blessing Obi on Tuesday, at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Lagos, easily conveyed this hopeless situation.
Looking dejected and confused, the 50-year-old woman recounts to one of our correspondents the difficulties her family is having to get medical attention for her cousin, Ugochukwu, who was involved in a road accident last week.
A popular private hospital had given a referral to Ugochukwu, to seek the services of LUTH. Armed with the referral,Obi came to the hospital bubbling with the enthusiasm and hopeful that Ugochukwu’s complications would be resolved at last.
Unfortunately, there was no health worker on ground to attend to her cousin.
It is not only the patients that are witnessing this frustration and inaction in the hospital. Doctors are facing hard times in discharging their duties. They do not have access to medical reports, pharmacy and the laboratories, as well as many other departments of the hospital.
A male doctor at the Accident and Emergency unit of the hospital said the strike had interferred with their duties to patients.
He said, “It has really been frustrating because we do not have access to the files of these patients, we are just treating them from what we have committed to memory. The patients have to go out of LUTH to buy drugs because the pharmacy has been under lock.
“Though we have medical students who can assist, we cannot perform surgeries because the unions came to lock up the nursing stations and operating booth where supplies are kept. They just want to make sure that the hospital is paralysed while they are on strike.
“I have been doing overnight (call duty) since the last 72 hours, we cannot let patients that have been on admission die because of strike.”
Apart from the frustration experienced by doctors, patients and their relations, the strike is also exposing the relatives of the patients to financial difficulties.
Mr. Adesuwa Onafowokan, whose wife was due for a surgery for cancer at LUTH, said he could not afford to take his wife to another hospital as the doctors advised.
He said, “The surgery my wife is to undergo in LUTH will cost just N100, 000 but when I attempted to transfer her to a private hospital in Ikeja where they can perform the operation, they asked for a deposit of N1.2m.
“I also went to LASUTH, but they did not have bed space. According to them, since the strike started, they have been accommodating patients from LUTH and other federal hospitals. I took her home , but she started bleeding again. I had to return her to LUTH this morning. I pleaded passionately before they took her back.”
Another breast cancer patient, who plead anonymity, said the strike had resulted in the indefinite postponement of the surgery.
Obi said, “I flew in from Abuja last night only to be turned back this morning for a surgery that was booked three months ago. Why won’t there be a backlog of patients waiting for surgery?Government says it does not want patients to go to India or United Kingdom for treatment, but it is clearly not ready to pay its workers.
“I am angry and in pain. I can only have this surgery done at LUTH because that is where there is a functional radiotherapy machine and the charge is not high. If I were to do it in a private hospital in Abuja, I would have to pay N2m first.”
The patients at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos are not faring any better. In fact, the stench emanating from the wards tell it all. Just name it, from the emergency unit to the ward, the putrid smell of rottenness is everywhere.
According to a patient at the J Ward, no nurse has come to tend the sick due to the strike.
He said, “When wounds are not dressed they deteriorate. If they do not call off this strike this week, my condition may get to the point where they will have to amputate my leg. I learnt the strike last year cost many patients their arms and legs. We cannot leave. There is no other orthopaedic hospital to go to in Lagos and our wounds are too severe for us to be moved around.”
‘The ward smells because the wounds are decaying and doctors cannot do this while they are attending to almost 30 of us in a day. The toilets are also not clean. You can see bloodstains on the sheets because we cannot even move to change it. I have to lie on my back.
“When ASUU goes on strike nobody dies, but when doctors, nurses go on strike people die. Doctors and other health workers must realise that they cannot continue to hold government ransom with strike, patients are not chickens that can be slaughtered at will.”
The scenario is the same at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital where doctors are the only ones on duty. One of our correspondents, who visited the hospital, observed that the doctors were combining their duties with those of the striking workers.
Also, there is a reduction in number of patients ,considering the huge population of patients normally witnessed at the hospital prior to the strike.
Some patients, whose medical conditions were not critical, have been discharged while emphasis is laid on emergency and critical cases.
The Kwara State Secretary of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Mohammed Nababa, told our correspondent who monitored the situation at the UITH, that the doctors would not join the strike.
He said, “We know that the allied health workers are on strike but doctors are not.We now handle patients files .We are coordinating everything. We have taken care of accidents, emergencies and critically ill patients in the hospitals.
“Medical students and doctors now run shift the way support staff normally do. We take care of the record aspect by keeping folders.”
Pharmacists, doctors trade blame
Meanwhile, the National President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, last week, issued a directive to all doctors to ensure that they were at their duty posts.
The directive read, “For the record, we wish to inform the public that hospitals will remain open for consultation by doctors.
“However, we affirm that no group or union has monopoly over the use of strike actions in seeking the actualisation of its objectives. Therefore, the NMA shall not hesitate to use the same means if government fails to uphold the rule of law and succumbs to blackmail and intimidation. We insist on the enthronement of professionalism and not emotions as means to bring about lasting peace in the health sector.”
This directive has struck a discordant tune among other professionals in the sector.
For the National President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Mr. Olumide Akintayo, the nationwide strike was avoidable.
According to Akintayo, the health workers had been provoked by some recent decisions taken by the Federal Government which, he claimed, favoured doctors above other health professionals.
He said, “Government is to be blamed for the issues causing this strike. For some strange reasons, the minister of health, who is a doctor, sent a circular to teaching hospitals that members of other professions cannot become consultants. We are not saying we want to become consultant doctors. How can anybody say I cannot be a consultant pharmacist? It is a cadre recognised across the world.
“How do we explain a situation where five directors out of six professional directorates in the Federal Ministry of Health are doctors whereas other professional groups do not have a single director representing their interest?
“It is a shame that we have a ministry of doctors not of health. More than any other time, we have experienced unlawful appointments of doctors without input from other sectors. Government encourages a system in health care that fosters an agenda of discriminatory privileges.”