The current five-day warning strike initiated by Nigerian doctors, under the guidance of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), has severely disrupted healthcare services across public tertiary hospitals in the country. These doctors form the backbone of Nigeria’s tertiary health institutions, and their absence has inevitably crippled health services, creating a distressing situation for many patients.
The medical operations have been substantially hindered in several hospitals located in Abuja, Lagos, and Ogun states, as of the second day of this strike. This labor action was set into motion in the early morning hours of Wednesday, as the government of Nigeria failed to fulfill the Nigerian doctors’ numerous demands.
Among the list of grievances held by these healthcare professionals are the immediate requirement for the disbursement of the 2023 Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF), substantial measures towards the “upward review” of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS), and the payment of all salary arrears owed to its members since 2015.
Additionally, the striking doctors are demanding an immediate and massive recruitment drive for clinical staff in hospitals, and the abolishment of bureaucratic barriers that impede the immediate replacement of doctors and nurses who depart the system. They are also advocating for an immediate review of the hazard allowance by all the state governments and private tertiary health institutions, where any form of residency training takes place.
Despite the Nigerian government’s assertion that negotiations are currently ongoing to halt the strike, the doctors have countered this claim by stating that they have not been approached for dialogue. This communication gap has contributed to the longevity and severity of the industrial action.
Due to this ongoing strike, healthcare activities in several public hospitals in Ogun State, South-west Nigeria, have been paralyzed. Our correspondent, upon visiting the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) and the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, both situated in Abeokuta, the state’s capital, observed full compliance with the strike directive from the resident doctors. This has led to patients being transferred to consultants or discharged to prevent complications due to the absence of adequate medical attention during the strike period.
The shortage of personnel has left many patients unattended in these hospitals. One such patient, named Adeola, was seen leaving a ward with the assistance of her caregiver, Michael. Expressing her frustration, she highlighted the scarcity of doctors even before the strike and the subsequent disappearance of doctors since the strike’s commencement.
At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), the impact of the strike was similarly felt. While a few patients reported receiving medical attention, the relatives of others expressed dissatisfaction over the lack of doctors.
A significant concern raised was the reliance on student doctors since the strike began. One of these cases involved Christiana Olatunji, whose daughter-in-law had delivered a premature baby on Thursday. Christiana pointed out that since the strike started, they have been navigating an unstable healthcare environment where various tests were requested, and the medical personnel attending to them kept changing.
Meanwhile, Kemi Abiloye, the President of the Association of Residents Doctors (ARD) at LUTH, confirmed that their members have fully complied with the strike. She stressed the need for adequate funding for the healthcare system, infrastructural development, and addressing the existing issues that contribute to the medical brain drain in Nigeria.
At Asokoro district hospital, the waiting rooms were filled with patients who were hoping to receive medical attention. Some patients like Chidi Moses were caught off guard by the strike and expressed their frustration at not being able to afford private healthcare.
At the Federal Medical Centre in Jabi, healthcare services were being provided on a limited scale, with other workers stepping in to offer some essential health services to patients. However, the chairperson of NARD at the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Aro, Odubakun Kazeem, confirmed that patients at their facility were not receiving attention from resident doctors.
In conclusion, this ongoing strike by resident doctors in Nigeria represents a critical challenge for the nation’s healthcare sector. It’s a potent call to action for the Nigerian government, demanding immediate attention to the long-standing issues faced by medical professionals. Until the government engages in meaningful dialogue and takes concrete steps to meet their demands, the strike, along with the consequent disruption of healthcare services, looks set to continue.