Strike: When doctors refuse to save lives

By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna
The casualty department was full. There were several cases waiting to
be attended to at the outpatient wards. Many were routine cases but
several were serious and quite a few really urgent and very critical.

The story was the same in the hospital admission wards where medical staff could be seen hurrying up and down trying to cope with the heavy
rush of patients.

Curiously, apart from nurses, ward aides, cleaners and a few non-medical staff, doctors acknowledged as leaders of the
medical team – were conspicuously missing.

This scenario has been played out several times over in virtually all State-owned hospitals in Lagos and many other States of the Federation in the last week or so. So many State hospitals have had to
cope with offering a semblance of health care services even without
doctors at their duty posts, no thanks to a nationwide doctors; strike.

The development has become a pattern in all government-owned hospitals across the Federation, a situation that critical observers say leaves much to be desired.

From January this year to date, the health sector has witnessed serious set back following incessant strikes by Nigerian doctors. It is even more surprising if it is considered that embarking on strike is
equivalent to refusal to perform the most basic function of a medical
doctor, that is, to save lives first and foremost, an act contrary to
the medical profession’s famous Hippocratic Oath.

Observers note that the impact of the series of strikes may not only deepened the problems of poor infrastructures in the health system, but worsen the collapse of the less than impressive primary and secondary
health care delivery systems in the country if nothing urgent is done
to check the trend.

Worse still, tongues have continued to wag that when many innocent Nigerians lose their lives unnecessarily during

these strikes, no one bears the repercussions. Indeed, who asks questions when there is no respect for the noble call to save lives?

As stated by a section of the public during a recent debate, although doctors command much respect within medical circles and society at large, their penchant to frequently utilise strike as a
weapon whenever there is disagreement with their employers, notably
government, is fast eroding the level of confidence and trust that
their clients have for

them and their profession.

As some of the most respected professionals in the world, medical doctors are expected to toe the path of dialogue and to exhaust all avenues for the sake of their patients.

Just like the traditional old sayings, “When two elephants fight the grass suffers” The Nigerian masses have been at

the receiving end since the emergence of strike in all hospitals across the nation.

It is no longer secret that the latest strike was sparked off by the recent Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) approved by the Federal Government for doctors under their employment.

Since the approval, controversy has trailed the salary structure as doctors in all the states have been agitating that the scale be reflected in their own states.

Notable amongst these agitators are the Oyo, Ogun, and Lagos States where the doctors are currently on strike. The affected State governements have at various fora state it loud and clear that as much
as they would want to meet the demands of the doctors, they cannot
afford to pay the huge wage bill that the new salary scale would amount
to. For instance, in the view of the Lagos State Commissioner for
Health, if the State was to pay the new salary structure, it would cost
the state at least N1.8billion every month to pay doctors alone.

As the situation currently reflects, many states if not all, are unable to meet up with the new scale. On their own part, the doctors have thrown caution to the wind and stated in clear terms that it is
either CONMESS or nothing. So there is a stalemate. At the moment the
strike continues.

Sadly, the loser in the whole affair is the patient.

Concerned stakeholders and close observers of the health industry are now of the opinion that the State governments and Nigerian doctors are playing politics with the lives of helpless Nigerians who depend on
the services of the government owned hospitals for their health needs,
and whose tax is the source of the doctors’ salaries. Even as it is, a
fundamental question remains unanswered. Where lies the opinion of the
Nigerian masses in all these?

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