In view of the five days warning strike embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), it’s at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Doctor Tope Osundara, in this Interview with PLATFORM TIMES, said that industrial harmony may not be guaranteed if the demands of the Association are not met. SODIQ MOJIBOLA, RIDWAN OLIYIDE, FAWAZ ADEBISI & ISREAL ADELEKE report.
What are the demands of the National Association of Resident Doctors that led to the industrial action?
The demands of the association are not too complex. They are legit concerns of the National Association of Resident Doctors. Some of them include the appropriate remuneration of doctors; the depleted workforce in the health sector, where we have few doctors manning the hospital to take care of the patients; we also have some of our arrears being owed which we told them to pay.
There is also a bill sponsored by one Honorable Ganiyu Johnson which we told them to abolish because it has passed the second reading. We do not want a situation whereby laws will be passed on the doctors and we will be subjected to slavery.
No doctor should be under servitude and that is why we are calling on the government so that we can dialogue.
We have been in this agitation for a while and we told them that we are giving them an ultimatum to call for dialogue and do something on our demands; warning that if these things are not done, we cannot guarantee industrial harmony.
Unfortunately, the attempt we made at dialoguing didn’t come to fruition. After the ultimatum, we still have two extra days before we converged as a body to take a decision on this five-day warning strike.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige warned that embarking on the strike would warrant a no work no pay action. How would you react to this?
The Minister has said what he said in his own wisdom which does not speak too well of him. I was reading through the pages of the newspaper and I saw a place where he used a derogatory statement on qualified doctors who are professionals.
In some other places, doctors under training are given licenses and membership in colleges of training. Therefore, it is derogatory for a Minister to use a word such as student doctors for people who have graduated from medical school, to belittle what they are doing.
If I tell a layman that I am a student doctor, the first thing that comes to their head is that maybe I am a medical student and you know, subjecting a patient to the hands of someone who has not even received qualification practice as a doctor; that does not speak too well.
You are now misinforming the populace that the kind of people you’re dealing with are student doctors, it doesn’t sound right.
Coming back to what he said concerning the five-day warning strike. There is nowhere that 9ke doesn’t have the right to protest when rights and privileges are being stumbled upon. We called them for dialogue but they didn’t deem it fit to even have a round table with us.
I said the other time that the attempts we made at dialoguing didn’t bring out anything. In fact, we didn’t even dialogue in the first place, until we gave out the notice of the five days warning strike.
That is when the government should take care of doctors, especially in this era or time of brain drain and Japa syndrome.
Not only doctors now, but we also have nurses and other health workers who are traveling abroad seeking greener pastures because of utterance and actions of the government which is uncalled for.
Are the resident doctors willing to sacrifice their salaries for the number of days they are on strike?
Well, the federal government cannot withhold our salary, that is just the truth. There is a law in the civil service rule that says if you have worked for a particular number of days the government can’t withhold your salary for the remaining number of days that is left in the month.
Aside from that, the federal government can’t withhold our salary because we are going on a five days warning strike, if the federal government does anything like that, we will take the issue to court for the law to take its cause, so they know that what we are doing is legal, it is our legitimate right to fight for what is right and our privileges so it is the government that should do the needful if they want to be truthful to themselves, they should sit down and look for where they make mistakes and correct it. It is as simple as that.
Dr. Chris Ngige said that part of the five demands made by the NARD has been met, stating that the demand for payment of the allowance of the Medical Residents Training Funds (MRTF), has actually been paid to the medical sector. Do you agree, and why is the NARD still making that demand?
Well, based on what you say, I would want to say those allegations were unfounded, we have some of our members who went for exams and they paid out of pocket if truly the federal government has paid the colleges of training, then we do not need to cough out money from our pockets to go and pay those colleges exams fees, gate fees and all because what the mechanical training funds was meant for is to pay for your exams fee, update fee and some other fees that is attached to your residence training.
Now there is a particular portion of the money that should come to us, but of them, we haven’t seen it. If they had seen the one sent.
Ngige paid the exam body, but then they should inform us, the National body, and the West Africa body. If I pay money to you, you should inform me that a particular money was paid to you on my behalf but we haven’t gotten any information regarding that, so, where this information is coming from I really don’t know.
Do you think the industrial action is the only way out for now?
No, industrial action is never the only way out, even in war, there are times when you have to sit down at the round table to dialogue. And most time, the longest war is even resolved on the tables where people gathered together to iron out their differences.
So the essence of everything we are doing is to call the government to call them to a consciousness of what is demanded and we can have a dialogue that will lead to compromise and find a way forward because it is not benefiting, and not a thing of joy for a Doctor to go on strike, when you have so many people out there seeking medical attention.
If they didn’t get medical attention from the government, that means they will have to go to private facilities, and those private facilities some of them may not be able to afford fees. So it is just appropriate for us to resume back to work immediately but before doing so there must be something on the table for the doctors to see.
Talking about the condition of the country, considering the alarming rate of brain drain and how it affects the sector, what do you think can be done to reduce brain drain in Nigeria?
Well to reduce the scourge of brain drain in this country, the governor needs to do so many things, the first thing is to pump money into the health sector, and make it enticing, now we are only talking about doctors, are we the only one, we have nurses, in fact the rate at which nurses jet out of this country is even higher, almost double the space and the rate at which doctors leave the country.
Now we should ask ourselves, why are they leaving? because if you are leaving from one end to the other, you should be able to know that at the other end, whether things are rose oyer there are better than where you are coming from. And as human beings, if you find a place that is comfortable, and convenient for you, you stay there, so if you don’t make this place enticing, you still continue to see a brain drain.
Now, see what the government is doing, you said you don’t have medical personnel in the hospital, there are not doing anything towards it, if you check some of these hospitals you will discover that the number of doctors to patients ratio is very alarming. You will sometimes have just one doctor attending to a hundred patients in a day.
The quality of service that will be rendered, just imagine myself handling hundred of patients in a clinic, I may not be able to give out the best because, the pressure on me is just too much, so to cut this brain drain is going back to the question you asked, is for the government to do the appropriate remuneration if doctors, infrastructure development in our hospitals and then find people to assist, get more people to employ into the system, so that there will be a little bit time for you to do some other things. If you want to read, if everything you do is just service service service service, you need also fuel that knowledge base by reading, by going for training.
But as it is now it is very difficult for a doctor to leave service and go for other training that will help his medical profession.
Will the Association go ahead with the strike if the Federal Government fails to meet the demands after these five days of warning strike?
Well, this is just a five-day warning, a warning strike will end by Monday, 8 am we are going to resume back to work on Monday.
We will review what is on the offing and what the government is offering us and then we’ll have our meeting. By then, we hope that the new government will have been sworn in.
It is also a call to the new government, to inform it that there are issues, in case the outgoing government does not do anything. We would want them to also see to the plight of doctors and attend to whatever their demands are.
We will give some time grace for the new government to review some of the things we have tabled, Incase we have this outgoing government not attending to them.
After which, most likely, there will be nothing done, and we will have to go on a total indefinite industrial action, but for now, it’s just a warning strike, and it’s not beyond that.
As a result of the strike, how are patients being attended to?
We have handed over the care of patients to consultants, the nurses are on the wards to also assist them.
However, if the consultants cannot handle the number of patients that are on the wards, I don’t know, maybe some of them may want to refer while some of them may want to manage the patients on their own.
Consultants too can manage patients very well, just like every other doctor.
So, it is not a total shutdown, but skeletal work will still go on because the consultants are there, but the bulk of the work is mostly done by the resident doctor in the hospital. That’s a known fact to everyone.
The bulk of the work is done by resident doctors, medical officers, and some of our house officers, so the consultants cannot do it alone.
A consultant works with many samples, so it is always better when you have all the hierarchies of the medical profession, so if they are a team, we cannot fragment it, and leave a part to work on their own.
They have to energize as a team, bring everything we know together and focus on the care of the patient.
It was rumored that having heard of the news, parents rushed to withdraw their patients from hospitals to seek medical care from outside, how can you react to this?
It is normal when you have industrial action like that and you have patients on the ward, relatives of patients on the ward will want to seek places where adequate attention will be given to them and it’s unfortunate that we have a situation like this and adequate attention cannot be guaranteed, especially with the strike action that is ongoing.
So, for some of these patients, I’ll just enjoin them so that they can always liaise with consultants of the ward and see what can be done.
What advice would you give to the federal government and stakeholders that are concerned?
It is an appeal to the populace, and prominent people in the society to help us talk to the government to do the needful and we also appeal to the government led by President Muhammadu Buhari that they should find lasting solutions to these issues and resolve it before the day he’ll leave office.
That will be a very good legacy for them to leave within the medical folks.
I want to appeal to the federal government to be truthful and not play this game in a way that will appear like they are trying to push residents out of the whole system.
So, we are appealing to them that they should kindly see to our demands and agitations, and find a solution to it.
I urge journalists too to help make it public and let it reach out to them and made known that we are not trying to fight with the FG, all we want is the dialogue.
There was supposed to be a dialogue today, any update on that?
We’ve not gotten any update on that, of course, you’ll be duly informed when it is out.
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