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‘Go to private hospitals, we are on strike’ - Nigerian doctors say to patients .

Many public hospitals have been a shadow of themselves because of the ongoing strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).

They called out their members on what they called an indefinite and total strike following their rejection of the government’s terms of settlement.

At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja and National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, among others, the strike affected services. Only consultants and other medical staff attended to patients.

There was low turnout of patients at the National Orthopaedic, Igbobi. A doctor who spoke off camera said the hospital is on partial strike. “We only attend to critical cases and not minor cases”, she said. Mr. Jude Aholor who brought his son to the hospital for regular clinic, said that government should address the demands of the doctors in the interest of the deprived patients. While expressing disappointment with the doctors’ action, Aholor enjoined government to make the doctors’ welfare a priority to avoid incessant strikes.

Another patient, Mr Igbagboyemi Alao, commended the hospital management and other doctors on ground for their abilities to manage the patients in spite of the resident doctor’s strike. “We don’t even expect to get this attention, though, it is a bit slow, as you can see, and we are still being attended to accordingly”, he said.

On a tour round the different sections of LASUTH, apart from the medical emergency unit where doctors and other medical staff were seen attending to patients, nurses were the major officials attending to patients. In one of the sections, the security officers were seen asking the patients to leave as there are no doctors to attend to them. In high hope, some patients refused to leave, claiming they were given an appointment that day.

At the Department of Family Medicine, a lot of patients came for treatment, but few hands were available to attend to them. One of the patients lamented that “we were told to sit down since morning, only to be told now that we should leave as doctors are on strike.” Some of the patients who were frustrated already, decided to leave the waiting point into the building in order to know what was going on, but they were appeased and addressed by the hospital’s security officers and nurses. Another patient there told The Nation that “I have been here for over five hours and no response. One of them (hospital staff) came to pacify us. They said the consultants will attend to us but they are not on seat. We were told they are in a meeting. Only two people are attending to us.” He added “…go to private hospitals, you will give them your card and immediately, you will be attended to. Here, there’s always delay. I don’t have choice but to wait for them.”

Dr. Adeola Badmus, President, Association of Resident Doctors-LASUTH said the doctors’ demands were not new. According to him, “the problem is that the demands are old demands, they are the same old demands we’ve been asking for over the years.” On how effective the strike has been in LASUTH, he said, “well, you might see skeletal work around, because the consultants are working as they are not part of the strike. They are still seeing their patients to their own capacity, but the bulk of the work being done in the hospital is done by resident doctors. The resident doctors are always the first contact for the patients.”

Also, at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, there was low turnout of patients, as fewer patients were seen at the major department and clinics. A visit to the Accident and Emergency Unit, which was always busy on normal day, was scanty as well as other units including the Gynaecology and Paediatric Units. Meanwhile in the Out Patient Department Unit, Consultants, Corps members who are doctors and other medical personnel were seen attending to patients.

Speaking with the (NARD) President, in LUTH, Dr Sekumade Adebayo, on why doctors embarked on the strike, he said it wasn’t a spontaneous action; the association he said have been engaging government officials for several months. “There was a warning strike in January and this is September that is 9 months down the line. We have met severally and signed agreements that were not implemented”, he said.

On whether the strike would soon be called off, Sekumade explained that due to the level of coverage the strike has been getting and the willingness of the government officials to come to the negotiating table, “one can be hopeful that the strike can be brought to an end speedily”, he concluded

In Gbagada General Hospital, normal activities was going on there, doctors were on hand to attend to patients. In an interview with one of the patients, Mrs. Anna Boripe who wanted to see the doctor, she said she was not aware of the strike action. According to her, “I have been seen the doctors moving around in their robes and some attending to us. I don’t know that there is an ongoing strike in Gbagada,” she said.

A boost for private hospitals

The ongoing strikes in government hospitals nationwide is no doubt a boost for most of the private hospitals as most people are left with little or no choice but to go to private hospitals.

A visit to R-Jolad Hospital in Gbagada revealed most people are either on referrals from government hospitals or are there as a result of lack of bed space in government hospitals. The Assistant Head Records Division, at the hospital, Mr. Oluwatokunbo Adeoye, confirmed that the hospital does have referrals from various hospitals. “Yes we do have referrals from government hospitals as well as from tertiary hospitals and it has become high due to the strikes action embarked upon by the resident doctors nationwide. They come here sometimes for admission or to see our specialist and even to access medicare. Most times the patients come here when there are no bed space in government hospitals. Once they come here we do attend to them but you know it is not free.”

Many private hospitals are witnessing a surge in patronage due to the strike.

FMC Abeokuta unaffected

At the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Ogun State, healthcare delivery services to both in and out – patients are n top gear despite the on – going industrial action by NARD.

Members of NARD FMC Abeokuta joined their colleagues across the country to withdraw their services in compliance with the indefinite strike directive given by its national body.

When newsmen visited the hospital, patients were being attended to by consultants and graduate doctors who are members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

It was observed further that patients also received special service such as surgery while the accident and emergency cases were also attended to.

The Chief Medical Director (CMD), Prof. Adewale Musa, said that there was no “gap at the facility because of the industrial action” of resident doctors, saying other medical personnel have been mobilised to duty to ensure that patients were attended to.

He said the hospital is “coping favourably well” with NARD’s strike, explaining that there are 140 doctors – comprising 70 consultants, 60 doctors and 10 National Youth Service Corps doctors, on ground attending to patients’ needs.

The CMD however appealed to the striking doctors to return to duty in the interest of patients and the country.

Musa said: “the resident doctors absent are being felt, we are missing them and they are quite important because of the quantum of work they do.”

The President of FMC chapter of NARD, Dr. Taiwo Babajide, said his colleagues would follow the directive from its national body faithfully.

Full blown strike in Enugu Teaching Hospital

Although the resident doctors’ strike is full blown at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, no serious case of stranded patients has been reported.

The hospital premises which used to be a beehive was as at Wednesday empty as patients stayed home or look for alternative private hospitals.

Those on admission were, however, still in the wards. According to a nurse who refused to disclose her name, the nurses and other para-medicals were able to manage some of them.

She also hinted that some patients with “long leg” made arrangements whereby some doctors unofficially come to attend to them.

But those billed for surgery were all discharged and asked to await the end of the strike. In some cases, the doctors make brisk business by referring them to their private hospitals for surgeries. That is those who can afford it.

A pathetic case in point is the one of a woman who was brought all the way from Ugbokolo in Benue State for a booked surgery. She arrived last Tuesday for her Thursday appointment for surgery. But as at the time of filing this report, the woman could not see her doctor.

The daughter, Iwongo lamented, “My mother was booked for this operation last month. And we arrived two days ago, only to be told that the operation cannot be performed because of the doctors’ strike. The doctor that has been seeing us cannot be reached.”

Dr. Chibuzo Ndiokwelu, chairman of the UNTH NARD who spoke to our reporter said the strike was total and would only resume when the national body calls it off.

A the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, the strike was not total as the management of the hospital mobilized Youth Corps doctors to attend to patients. Even at that the consultants were seen attending to very serious cases.

But the chairman of the resident doctors of the hospital, Dr. Nebo insisted that the strike was total and effective.

Significant drop in activities in Calabar Teaching Hospital

Activities at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) have dropped significantly since the strike action began.

President of the UCTH branch of NARD, Dr Akanimo Ekereuke, said resident doctors in the hospital were 100 per cent compliant with the strike from the national body.

He said those found on duty were not resident doctors.

Akanimo, who is also the Senior Registrar in the Department of Family Medicine said, “The strike is total and we are not going back for now. The resident doctors are 100 per cent compliant with the strike. The consultants are working. They are not part of resident doctors. There also principal medical officers. Those ones are not resident doctors, so they can also work. All the resident doctors are on strike including house officers and medical officers below the rank of Principal Medical Officers.”

The hospital was still admitting patients, but with the warning that they may not get a doctor’s attention immediately, as only very few consultant doctors were available. Many of the operations to be carried out in the operating theatres were also postponed as the doctors handling most are residents. The most critical ones were taken over by consultants who could work on them, while others were left stranded.

A patient, Edet, who was to undergo an appendicitis operation, who was left stranded, said he was at a loss of what to do.

“Right now the doctor who was to attend to me has left me hanging and I am confused as it is. They have asked me to queue because very few consultants are available and that I may have to wait a long time. The other alternative I have is to go somewhere else, likely a private hospital but that is more expensive and I don’t have that kind of money. Right now the economy is not favourable and with this situation, I don’t know if they want to kill us in this country. Something must be done urgently.

When contacted the Chief Medical Director of UCTH, Dr Thomas Agan, said “We are still in negotiations. We are in Abuja. It is the weekend that I would be in a better position to say something.”

Consultants, nurses to the rescue in Kaduna

In Kaduna State, the strike has been very effective, from Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH) to National Eye Centre and National Ear Care Centre (NECC). However, consultants and nurses have taken over the services.

It was gathered that activities at both sites of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Shika and Tudun-Wada, Zaria have remained paralysed.

Patients to the hospital with various ailments were seen being turned back, while those who had been on admission before the commencement of the strike were being attended to by few consultants and nurses on duty.

A disappointed patient, Hajia Rabi Usman said, she was highly disturbed on reaching the hospital to discover that doctors are on strike and nobody to attend to them.

According to her, “I have been down with Malaria for the past two weeks now. I have been to a private hospital in my neighbourhood, but the symptoms refused to go. So, the only alternative I thought I had for a comprehensive treatment is a teaching hospital, but here we are, doctors are on strike. So, we are now at the mercy of private hospitals, which are not as competent and equipped as the government hospitals.”

Similarly, at the National Eye Centre Kaduna, consultants, nurses, laboratory scientists, pharmacists and some other health workers were seen going about their duties.

Only few patients were seen in the various wards and waiting rooms compared to the heavy influx of patients across the country to the specialist hospital.

However, the Chief Medical Director (CMD), ABUTH, Prof. Lawal Khalid told journalists that, the problem was not peculiar to the hospital as it was a nationwide strike.

Patients are now trooping into major private hospitals like, St. Gerard’s Catholic Hospital and others to seek alternative medical care.

However, while the strike lasts, the minister of health Prof. Isaac Adewole, has directed heads of federal government hospitals to ensure that all other medical doctors in the other strata are available to fill the vacuum.

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