The Federal Government has substantially met the demands of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige has said.
The Minister stated this on Saturday in Abuja while faulting the rejection of the Memorandum of Action signed March 31, 2021, by NARD President, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi.
The Minister explained that some of the issues, such as the abolition of the ‘Bench fees’ by Resident doctors and their health institutions payable to sister hospitals were abolished on the negotiating table.
He, however, stated that the outstanding issues, which came up at the last conciliation, were time-lined along with a month lifespan of implementation, as they are still work in progress.
He said: “NARD made some of the demands in ignorance. They didn’t have the full picture. Maybe they wished for a strike or their president pushed them into strike so that his name will go into the annals of NARD as one of the tough presidents that have taken them on strike. That’s wrong.
“The unilateral repudiation of the Memorandum of Action by NARD’s President is unknown in Labour negotiation.
“He didn’t participate in most of the discussions last Wednesday, because he fell ill not quite long after the meeting started and had to excuse himself. He handed over to his deputy, the Secretary-General and other officers of the association, who fully participated…
“The two parties to the negotiation signed the MoA. Four officers from government and three from NARD signed the document and the President, who was not at the meeting, but fully represented by deputies went to NARD’s NEC and disowned the paper because they were signed by his deputy and secretary-general. There is what is called transmission of power…”
The Minister also condemned attempts by NARD to impose a fait accompli on the Federal Government while the negotiation was ongoing.
“When a trade dispute has been apprehended, no party imposes a fait accompli on the other. We signed a memorandum that says NARD would go back to its members to educate them on what was agreed on, the timelines placed on them, with a view to not disturb the industrial milieu in the health sector. And we agreed to reconvene after four weeks.”
He explained that the reason was to allow enough time to implement the issues in the timeline, some of which would take three weeks before reconvening.
He dismissed as untrue, allegation that doctors in public health institutions across the country are not insured, and said the Federal Government spent N13.3b in 2020 on group life insurance, not just on doctors and health workers, but also for workers in the federal civil and public service.
On the Medical Residency Programme, which is the major reason for fresh action by NARD, the Minister declared that the programme has been working hitch-free since it came up in 2019 and that the House of Representatives had to do a supplementary appropriation to accommodate it in the 2020 COVID-19 budget and the funds have been fully released by the Federal Ministry of Finance.
He, therefore, urged doctors to respect the Hippocratic oath, which makes patients’ wellbeing cardinal.
Meanwhile the industrial action embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to press home their demands for improved welfare is already taking toll on hospitals across the nation.
It is observed that across the country activities in several federal government hospitals have been disrupted already.
At the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and the General Hospital, Gbagada, a few patients were seen hanging around the hospital with some consultants and nurses offering skeletal services.
The President of the Association of Resident Doctors at LUTH, Dr. Oluwafemi Hassan, said that the doctors are unlikely to resume until their demands are met.
“We are the largest branch of the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors and as such the compliance to the strike in LUTH has been excellent,” he said. “As we speak, most of the emergency areas, the wards and every area of the hospital where services are supposed to be delivered are deserted.
“Knowing that LUTH is a referral centre for most general hospitals and private hospitals in Lagos; whether there is a holiday or not, it is usually very busy here. But if you go around, you will see that most places, especially the emergency and the wards, are empty.
“And the few patients in the ward presently are not well taken care of because resident doctors are not around to give care.”
Dr. Hassan said discussions with the government are expected to resume on Tuesday, after the Easter holidays.
“Of course, we are hopeful that all the demands will be addressed so that we can resume as soon as possible,” he said.