As there seems to be no end in sight to the strike by the Joint Health Sector Union, the fate of the sick hangs in the balance
Obinna Henry is unhappy at the moment. He just lost his doting mother. The businessman told one of our correspondents that his mother would still be alive if she was attended to at a general hospital she was rushed to when she took ill.
Henry tried to hold back tears as he narrated that his 78 years old mother eventually died at a private clinic because they could not get medical services at the general hospital.
He said he was in Onitsha, Anambra State, when the incident happened, but was in constant touch with his sister and planning to visit the family before they broke the news of his mother’s death to him.
Henry stated, “I was at Onitsha then, when I received a call from my sister that my mother suddenly developed complications. She was not sick before then. We would have been expecting that it was old age. It was something that would have been taken care of if she got all the needed medical services.
“According to what my sister told me, my mother was rushed to the Nnamdi Azikwe Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State, around 2.30am. When they got there, the hospital gate was locked and every attempt to persuade the security agents to open the gate so that mama would be treated fell on deaf ears as they insisted that the hospital was on strike and there was no one to attend to us.
“Despite her pleas, she told me that the gate was not opened and she had to rush her to a private hospital where she eventually passed on. Although mama was 78 years, she could have lived longer if she was attended to at the teaching hospital because I believe there are professionals there who would have done a better job.”
A senior worker in the NAUTH, Dr. Azuokwu Ngige, denied that patients were denied entry into the hospital by the security men.
He said that though the health workers were not in the hospital, the doctors had been working like they always did prior the strike.
Ngige said, “Anybody who says we locked our gate is lying. How can the gate of a hospital be locked? If it was 2am, I don’t know anything about that and if they had security issues. You don’t expect me to be at the gate by that time and we didn’t get any report on that. We are not aware of such.”
JOHESU declared an industrial action on April 17 over the non-implementation of a 2017 agreement it entered into with the Federal Government. The union, comprising health professionals excluding medical doctors, has as its chief demand, pay parity with medical doctors.
The union also demands, among others, upward adjustment of CONHESS Salary Scale as contained in the memorandum of Terms of Settlement signed on September 30, 2017; implementation of CONHESS Salary Scale at Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria; teaching allowances for nurses and health workers from CONHESS 7 and above taking teaching duties; short fall of call duty allowances for nurses and other health workers taking call duties and the establishment of regulatory councils for dieticians, medical social workers and clinical psychologists.
It also seeks the review of job specific allowances for health institutions on consolidated research and allied institutions salary structure and the abolition of deputy chairman, Medical Advisory Committee and Deputy Head of Clinical Services.
Many families in pains
Jennifer Okoro is among those who are bearing the brunt of the JOHESU strike. She said she was admitted to a traditional birth centre in her area and when she was about to be delivered of her baby, the birth attendant noticed that it was difficult to achieve.
She said the birth attendant referred her to a health centre, adding, “The health centre examined me and discovered that I had a condition called cephalopelvic disproportion and I was further referred to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital for a caesarean section.
“When we got to the UPTH, the security personnel told us to go back to a private hospital because of the strike and that there was nobody to attend to us.
“I was finally admitted to a private hospital where the CS was done but I lost my baby in the process of the operation because of the delay.”
The case of Usoro Etim was not palatable either. Etim said his relative, 14-year-old Emmanuel Etim, was rushed to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, when he suffered from severe convulsion.
Etim explained that when they arrived in the hospital, they were told that the health workers were on strike.
He stated, “We moved again to a nearby private clinic, but we could not meet up with the amount they demanded as deposit before any treatment could begin.
“We carried our only son away from there when we saw that the clinic was not ready to help us and rushed him to a traditional centre in Ozuoba, in the Ikwerre Local Government Area, Rivers State, where treatment began immediately. But after, his condition got worst and he died.”
Narrating her ordeal, an elder sister to 18-year-old Peace Wilson said she was admitted to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital.
The teenager, according to her sister, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stayed at the hospital for three months without care from the medical officials.
She said, “While in the hospital, my sister was not cared for as we were hoping that the health workers would resume work soon and help us, but this did not happen. And we sought for an alternative.
“We left the hospital and moved him to a private clinic located at Woji Street, behind New Mile One Market, Port Harcourt. The doctors there were angry with us for bringing her late as her condition had become complicated due to the delay in getting the appropriate medication that could have helped save her. On April 1, 2018, I lost my younger sister.”
In his reaction, the Public Relations Officer of UPTH, Kem Daniel-Elebiga, said the hospital had been open to members of the public, adding that though some workers were part of the strike, doctors available had doubled their efforts to bridge the gap.
Daniel-Elebiga stated, “Measures were put in place to ameliorate the effect of the strike so that members of the public would not be affected. The medical doctors have been working ever since, attending to members of the public. The doors are open to members of the public. People have been coming and they have been receiving (medical) attention.
“However, all the other members of the medical team, who would have been part of the team, are not around; they are the ones on strike.”
Hapless patients in Lagos, Ondo
In one of the general hospitals in Lagos visited by one of our correspondents, it was discovered that emergency wards had no female patients while the elderly patients’ ward had one occupant.
A medical doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with the press, said the hospital was filled with patients before the strike started.
“We hope that this strike would end soon so that everyone would be back to their duty post and we can all move forward. We are not happy with the way people are visiting the hospital and not being properly attended too,” he added.
An Ikorodu, Lagos-based cancer patient, identified only as Mrs. Darasimi, is unsure of where help for her condition will come from.
The trader said she had been having problems after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at a general hospital.
The mother of three stated, “Immediately I was diagnosed and referred to a general hospital, I have been trying to get adequate treatment but all have been futile. The first time I came to the hospital, I was told that there was no bed space; so, I could not be admitted. When I came for the next appointment, I was told that the health workers were on strike.
“The doctor who attended to me said I should go for a test, but the place, where the test and scans are supposed to be conducted, were not open. I have been unable to have the test and my health isn’t getting any better. I hope this disease will not kill me,” Darasimi added.
She hoped that the strike would end, so she could get adequate treatment.
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that some relatives of patients at the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, Ondo State, were planning to move them out of the hospital if the strike lingers like some worried residents did to their sick relations.
A relative of a patient in the hospital, who did not want his name mentioned, told one of our correspondents that he moved his wife out of the centre to a private hospital a week after the strike began.
He said, “I moved her to a private hospital because we don’t know when the strike will end. The care was not as it used to be at the FMC. Doctors only attend to the patients once daily. At times, the doctors may not come at all. Though it is more expensive at the private hospital, I have to bear it for her to be properly treated.”
The Chairman of the Resident Doctors Association in the hospital, Dr. Ibikunle Fakorede, explained that despite the strike, doctors were still attending to patients, adding that patients with serious issues were referred to another hospital.
“We are trying our best to attend to the patients despite the strike. We are still admitting patients; some doctors even performed surgery today. The doctors at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department have taken deliveries today (Tuesday). So, we are working,” he said.
He, however, admitted that the JOHESU strike had some adverse effects on the hospital, particularly on patient enrolment.
It was learnt that the state chapter of JOHESU did not join the strike due to the intervention of the state government.
The Acting Chairman of JOHESU in Ondo State, Mr. Yinka Adedire, said, “Some of the demands of the national body are also peculiar to us in the state. They have been presented before the government. A few of our demands have been attended to especially in the area of employment among others.”
Patients lament, plead in Ebonyi, Bayelsa
Besides, activities at the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, remained low as doctors, who report for duties, only perform skeletal services.
SUNDAY PUNCH’s visit to the hospital revealed that many offices in the hospital were locked since the commencement of the health workers’ strike across the country.
A mother, Mrs. Ngozi Nwoga, whose 12-year-old daughter, Chinyere Nwoga, had been on admission for two months, having undergone surgery at the hospital, noted that the doctors could not effectively combine their duties with the services of other health workers.
According to her, she moved her daughter to a private clinic located in Abakaliki, the state capital, since activities at the teaching hospital remained skeletal.
She said, “We could not see the nurses that take care of the patients the way it was done before the strike started. The nurses were the ones taking care of patients. We are affected by the strike, I appeal to government to accede to the request of the JOHESU members to end the industrial dispute so that normal services can resume.”
Another relative, Mr. Johnson Okeke, 50, has a son whom he said sustained burns in a kerosene explosion.
He lamented that doctors on duties were rendering skeletal services to few patients in the hospital.
Okeke noted, “We had no money to move him to a private hospital. I want the Federal Government to respond to the demands of the union for them (workers) to suspend the strike in the interest of patients across the country.”
A physiotherapy patient at the Federal Medical Centre, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Mr. Ardiegwu Eziukwu, appealed to the government and the health workers to resolve the issue in order to bring relief to millions of sick people.
Eziukwu lamented that the situation had become hard for ordinary Nigerians, saying he now paid exorbitant fees for his physiotherapy sessions in a private hospital.
He stated, “The situation is hard for ordinary Nigerians. As it is, I come to the Federal Medical Centre for physiotherapy sessions covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme. It means I do not need to pay.
“Since the strike started, I was told that I will pay N5,000 per session in a private gym and I require three sessions weekly. I simply have to stay at home and patronise local massage therapists since I cannot afford treatment in a privately-owned physiotherapy outfit.
“The scenario is even more pathetic for patients with life-threatening conditions. I am somehow lucky that I can wait, but many other persons cannot wait.”
Another patient at the out-patient clinics of the FMC, Mr. Ezeugu John, called on the Federal Government to urgently address the issues that led to the strike.
The 52-year-old security expert faulted the way life was handled in Nigeria, urging the government to make health care a priority.
John added, “We are not happy with the development. Government should do something about it. They should take care of health workers to encourage them to do their work well.
“I came to the hospital to get treatment. When I got there, I was told that the strike is still on. Only skeletal services are being provided by doctors and consultants.
“I would have gone to a private hospital but I don’t have the money. You know private hospitals are expensive and government hospitals remain the hope of the common man. That is why this strike is disturbing and infuriating.”
An elderly man, who gave his name as Geoffrey, said he was distraught when he was told at the hospital that the health workers were still on strike.
Geoffrey, in his late 60s, explained that it took him four hours by speedboat to get to Yenagoa, the capital city, to access medical attention at the FMC.
“It is very sad because we, who are sick, our hope is that the FMC, that has enough doctors and workers at various fields, will take care of us. On getting to the hospital, we discovered that some categories of workers are on strike. In my state, I was heartbroken to learn that health workers were still on strike,” he said.
He added that though the doctors were performing skeletal services, the vacuum created by the services of the other health workers were quite obvious.
“You know they are interdependent. So, for now, doctors and consultants only provide a temporary record that can be kept till when the striking workers resume so they can now take the record back to the main record. We pray that government should look into the matters in order to end the strike,” said Geoffrey.
Another patient, Mrs. Blessing Owei, lamented what she described as incessant strikes in the nation’s health sector.
“Without the health workers, the doctors cannot operate effectively. The strike is as if the entire public health sector in the country is shut down. The Federal Government and the union should urgently resolve the matter amicably,” Owei stated.
Govt knows what to do to end strike –JOHESU
However, the National Media Officer, JOHESU, Mr. Godwin Ogbonna, vowed that the strike would continue as long as the government was unwilling to meet the union’s demands.
He said, “It is not in the hands of JOHESU to prolong the strike. If the government is ready to meet the demands of the body today, the strike will be suspended immediately. But if the government is not ready to agree to the minimum request that we have made, it would last for as long as the government wants it.
“It’s in the hand of the government because even JOHESU members are not immune to illness. They also have brothers, friends and relatives who also fall sick. Everybody wants the strike to be suspended as soon as possible.”
He noted that the union had been compromising and shifting its position, saying the government should also move from its own position so that both could meet at a point beneficial to both parties.
“But the situation is that if we move 10 steps below our ground, we would have been moved below by another 10 steps. The government is the one delaying the matter and the body language of the minister of health has shown us that he is not sincere with us regarding negotiation,”Ogbonna said.
FG working to end the strike soon
Also speaking about the issue, President, Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Francis Faduyile, said the ongoing strike was affecting the patients because full medical activities were not in place in the hospitals.
“We cannot deny the fact that the strike is having effect on the patients because work is not going freely in the hospitals. Although the doctors are providing enough treatment for the patients generally, if I say hospitals are functionally going well, that is a lie. The hospitals are not fully working,” he added.
He stated that the demands of JOHESU didn’t concern the NMA except if the body’s interest was at stake.
Faduyile said, “The strike does not affect the doctors. If what the JOHESU members are asking for is true to their emoluments, yes they can take it. However, if they want to take things by eroding the areas affecting the doctors, then we will say no. One thing they are asking for is pay parity and we (NMA) are saying it is not possible.
“I am not the employer of JOHESU members; however, there are laws guiding the hospital and the health sector and you cannot break the laws because you are trying to satisfy a group of people.
“One thing we must know is that doctors are fully responsible for the treatment of patients and that is why we always come out to say things that are inimical to the proper treatment and management of patients in hospitals.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said on Saturday that the Federal Government was working to end the strike. He added that the Federal Government was unhappy with the prolonged strike.
Adewole said, “The Federal Government is doing everything possible to end the strike.’’
By SIMON UTEBOR,
TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN, PETER DADA, CLEMENT NNACHI and SAMPSON ITODE
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