Health

NARD Strike: Senior Nigerian doctors, others lament heavy workload as patients groan

About four doctors broke down last weekend due to stress.

As the ongoing strike by a section of Nigerian doctors under the umbrella of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) entered its third week on Monday, senior medical officials including consultants, and others who are engaged on temporary basis by some of the affected tertiary hospitals, are lamenting heavy workload.

This is as a few patients with critical conditions who are being attended to by these hospitals are complaining of slow pace work at the facilities, among other challenges they claim they now encounter as a result of the strike.

Meanwhile, all efforts to resolve the disagreement with the striking resident doctors may have finally collapsed as the Nigerian government has approached the National Industrial Court (NIC) to seek an order to declare the strike illegal and enforce the “no work, no pay” rule.

Officials recount ordeal

Joseph Eziechila is the head of clinical services and second in command to the chief medical director (CMD) at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Jabi in Abuja. But on Tuesday when our reporter visited the hospital, Mr Eziechila, an ophthalmic surgeon, dropped his titles as he battled to attend to patients in his office.

Apart from four patients who already gained access to Mr Eziechila’s office, many others were by his door awaiting their turn to be invited in.

This is as the doctor also struggled to attend to some of his statutory administrative responsibilities.

Mr Eziechila said the hospital decided to reduce the number of cases being attended to at the facility since the industrial action commenced, and that some doctors were engaged on a temporary basis to relieve the few doctors available at work. “But all these strategies haven’t changed things.”

He said: “I am the number two man in this hospital but I am now combining clinical services with administrative work.

“About four doctors broke down last weekend due to stress. Yesterday, the head of the internal medicine unit said even the locum doctors in his team are breaking down. He said they are planning to further downsize treatment and stop receiving new patients.”

He said the situation was worsened by the difficulty in attracting more locum doctors to the hospital, saying those available demand higher pay.

Front of emergency unit at national hospital Abuja.

He said: “Before now, whenever there was a strike like this, I would make a few phone calls and get as many locum doctors as I wanted. But this time, the situation is different. I started calling doctors as soon as the notice was issued but only very few of them showed up despite our promise to pay them more than N200,000.

“Hospitals are increasingly becoming ghost places. Some of these doctors see this as an opportunity to write their exams and leave the country because there is high demand for medical professionals overseas due to COVID-19. Countries like the U.K., U.S, Australia and Saudi Arabia are in high demand for doctors. So it’s funny when the labour minister threatened to sack the striking resident doctors. Who would replace them?”

Mr Ezichiela said at least five senior doctors in the hospital have left the country within the last three months.

Though resident doctors at the Osun State University Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, formerly Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Teaching Hospital, did not join the national strike, doctors at the hospital are lamenting the increasing number of patients being referred to them.

Bello Olalekan, a family medicine expert and senior resident doctor at the hospital, told this newspaper that since the industrial action commenced, most patients at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH) in Ile-Ife, have been trooping to Osogbo.

“Since OAUTH joined the strike, we have been at the receiving end here. There are no spaces for new admission and patients are not taking excuses,” he said.

NARD unfaced by legal option

Meanwhile, the striking doctors have said they would not be intimidated into submission, saying both the threats of “no work, no pay” rule and the legal option by the government could not force them back to work until implementation of their demands.

The President of the NARD, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, said the striking doctors worry about their patients but that the government has left them with no other option.

He said: “An unpaid doctor is an angry doctor and an angry doctor is a dangerous one.”

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