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9 Sep 2017

JOHESU threatens strike, vows to shut down hospitals

There are strong indications that activities in government hospitals may shut down if the Federal Government fails to meet the demands of the Joint Health Sector Unions and Assembly of Health Care Professionals.
This is coming as the strike embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors enters its fifth day.

The group said on Friday that it would embark on an indefinite industrial action that would shut down operations in public hospitals due to the prolonged delay by the Federal Government in meeting its demands since 2014.

JOHESU makes up about 95 per cent of health workers and health care providers in the country.

In a letter written to the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, the body, on Friday, threatened that if the Federal Government refused to address its agitations earnestly, it would have no option but to shut down health care facilities nationwide.

In its letter titled, “Looming nationwide industrial action: Request for audience,” and signed by the JOHESU National Chairman, Joy Josiah, and the National Secretary, Ekpebor Florence, the body warned that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives should grant it audience on September 13 and 14 respectively by 10am or at any other date not later than a week before September 30.

The letter read, “We write on behalf of the leadership of Joint Health Sector Unions and Assembly of Health Care Professionals, a body which makes up about 95 per cent of health workers and health care providers, to seek for your intervention in the protracted demands and agitations between JOHESU and the Federal Government since 2014 by granting us urgent audience on Wednesday, September 13, at 10am or any other date not later than a week before September 30.

“We are compelled to seek for your intervention so as to avert indefinite industrial action in the health industry. We are aware of the sensitive and important nature of our service to human lives, hence our proactive measure in prevention rather than curative.

“JOHESU is aware of your recent laudable role in intervening and resolving of the issues of the medical doctors while they were on strike. While thanking you for your kind approval to meet with us on September 13, accept the assurances of our best wishes.”

Patients in federal hospitals are already lamenting even as relatives have started moving some to churches, traditionalists’ homes and private hospitals.

Those who resorted to taking their sick loved ones to churches and traditionalists’ homes for treatment told Saturday PUNCH that they were doing so because they couldn’t afford the fees of private clinics.

Resident doctors had on September 4 began a nationwide indefinite strike after a meeting of its national leadership, saying they had to proceed on the action because the Federal Government failed to meet their demands.

NARD President, Dr. Onyebueze John, had said in a statement that the association resolved to reject the offer from the Federal Government and proceed on total and indefinite strike action until all items on its demand list for strike action were resolved.

When Saturday PUNCH visited the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, Akwa Ibom State, some patients were seen being taken away by their family members to churches, traditionalists’ homes and private hospitals.

For instance, at the Accident and Emergency Ward, Mr. Ubong Akpan and Mrs. Black Bassey, whose relatives were critically ill and needed urgent medical attention, said they had resolved to take them to their churches.

They did not, however, disclose the names of the churches they were taking their sick loved ones to when probed further.

“At this juncture, I have to rely on prayers, which is why I want to take my ill sister to church. We don’t have money to seek care in a private hospital,” Bassey said, pleading with the Federal Government to address the doctors’ strike urgently so as to save the life of her loved one.

A relative of one of the patients at the hospital, Mr. Ita Etim, said his family couldn’t afford to leave his sibling to die in the hospital, hence he had come to take him to a traditionalist’s home.

“My brother had an accident and had been here for some days, but due to the doctors’ strike, we have to take him to a traditionalist’s home for further treatment,” Etim said.

One of our correspondents, who was at the hospital, observed that the Children’s Ward, General Outpatients Department, Accident and Emergency Ward, Antenatal Ward, among others, had been deserted. Offices and buildings occupied by the resident doctors were also under lock and key.

A patient at the General Outpatient Department, Mrs. Elizabeth Umoren, lamented that she had been unable to see the doctor assigned to her, adding that she would have to seek medical care at a private hospital.

At the Federal Medical Centre, Yola, Adamawa State, which has about 60 resident doctors, one of our correspondents who visited the facility on Thursday observed as several patients were seen unattended to due to the doctors’ strike.

Only a few of the patients were being treated by consultants, who complained that the burden of taking care of the sick was becoming too much for them to bear.

The Head of Clinical Services at the hospital, Dr. Joel Yohanna, who is also a consultant, said his colleagues and other senior medical personnel who had stepped in to cover for the absence of resident doctors were being overworked, but would, however, continue to attend to patients who could wait patiently.

Saturday PUNCH observed as some people came to take their sick loved ones from the facility.

For instance, Umar Bello, whose son was hit by a car and had started receiving treatment at the Accident and Emergency Unit of the hospital before the strike started, said he would have to take his son to a traditional healer until the strike was called off.

In Ondo State, findings by Saturday PUNCH also showed that relatives had started taking their sick family members out of federal hospitals and relocating them to churches, private hospitals and elsewhere.

When one of our correspondents visited the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, relatives of some patients were heard discussing where to take their sick loved ones to for continuation of their treatment.

A man, who identified himself simply as Musa, said that since the doctors’ strike began, the condition of his father (a patient at the hospital) had got worse, hence the decision by family members to move him to a private facility.

“We are planning to move him to a private hospital in the town because since the strike began, we have yet to see any doctor attend to him. Only the consultants have been around, but they are only attending to very few patients,” he said.

A woman, whose cousin was also in the hospital, Mrs. Olusola Ajao, said the family had decided to move her to her church, where they believed she would “receive healing”.

“Attention is not being paid to her (the patient) in the hospital because of the strike and the family cannot afford to take her to a private hospital now. But we believe that she would receive healing in the church because there is nothing God cannot do,” Ajao said.

In Kwara State, investigations revealed that many patients were now flooding private hospitals and the state’s general hospitals.

Some persons, who have patients at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, said they couldn’t afford to wait anymore for the few consultants attending to many patients.

The doctors’ strike has also mounted pressure on consultants at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Cross River State. However, the specialists were being assisted by young doctors undergoing their housemanship at the hospital.

Despite that, a member of the hospital’s Medical Advisory Council, who craved anonymity, said the workload was beginning to have its toll on the consultants.

The official said, “There is a difference between a medical officer and a resident doctor. These people (trainee doctors) cannot do what the resident doctors can do, but we have to manage them due to the situation.”

One of our correspondents observed that the male and female surgical wards of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Teaching Hospital, Bauchi, were deserted.

A member of staff of the hospital, who confided in one of our correspondents, said that the hospital’s consultants, nurses and ward attendants were having a tough time treating and managing patients with the absence of the resident doctors.

He said many patients have been moved out of the hospital to other private hospitals and clinics but “we’re doing our best to manage the situation.”

At the Paediatric Medical Ward, a patient, Mrs. Janet Onyi, said although consultants were attending to them, their services were inadequate.

“A health worker attended to my son in the morning, but it is 4.30pm now and no one has come to check on him again. Only one ward attendant came to check us,” she said.

Abdullahi Usman told Saturday PUNCH that he had to move a family member, who was an emergency patient, to a private hospital because of the strike.

“We had to rush an accident patient to a private hospital (name withheld) for treatment because of the strike. It’s not fair for government to allow doctors go on strike because it is causing so much suffering for people. And the big problem is that the cost of treatment in private clinics is so high; we have no choice now but to look for money and pay the bills,” he said.

Story by Femi Makinde, Success Nwogu, Mudiaga Affe, Etim Ekpimah, Jesusegun Alagbe, Peter Dada, Hindi Livinus and Armstrong Bakam

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