Govt N4.8bn pledge: FG can’t be trusted, says NARD, we negotiated with NMA, minister insists

Our Reporters

23 August 2021

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Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige and the National President, National Association of Resident Doctors, Dr Uyilawa Okhuaihe Suyi

The National Association of Resident Doctors, on Sunday, faulted the N4.8bn, which the Federal Government promised to release for the residency training fund.

The first Vice-President of NARD, Adejo Arome, said in an interview with The PUNCH that the association could no longer trust the Federal Government.

Arome said this as the strike embarked upon by the association, which commenced on August 2, entered its 21st day today (Monday) as patients lamented the effects of the industrial action.

The strike was called over the Federal Government’s failure to implement the agreements it signed with the doctors before they suspended an earlier industrial action.

Among others, NARD accused the government of not paying house officers and failing to register many doctors on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System.

The Federal Government had a week ago headed for the industrial court after failing to convince the resident doctors to call off the strike.

But on Friday, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), directed both sides to resume negotiations.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, had on Saturday said the Federal Government had agreed to pay the N4.8bn residency training fund to the association, while also stating that there were plans to ensure that other demands of NARD, such as payment of arrears and payment of house officers, among others, were met.

Ngige had also said that the association would be required to sign a Memorandum of Action today (Monday).

Pay first, we can’t take promises to our members – NARD

But on Sunday, Arome said the association no longer trusted the government to implement the agreements.

He said NARD leaders could not return to their members with promises, adding that none of the agreements earlier signed with the government had yielded positive results.

Arome stated, “The government has not met anything. Saying they have set aside any amount of money is just their usual saying.

“We cannot go back to our members with promises. We won’t sign anything again. In fact, there is nothing to sign.

“We have signed all forms of memorandum. None of the ones we have signed has brought any positive results.

“We have signed Memorandum of Understanding and Memorandum of Action, you name it.”

‘Buhari should take over negotiations’

He added, “Let them go and do their work and let the people responsible for the issues be held responsible.

“We don’t trust them. We appeal to the President to take over the negotiations himself because right now, he is the only one we can trust.”

I didn’t negotiate with NARD, says labour minister

However, Ngige ruled out further negotiations with the resident doctors, saying he would not negotiate with NARD.

He said it was the Nigerian Medical Association that spoke with the leadership of the striking resident doctors.

One of our correspondents had asked the minister to react to the position of NARD that its members no longer trusted the Federal Government since previous agreements were not honoured.

But Ngige said he stopped talking to the association because it had gone to court.

The minister stated, “Call the NMA president and ask him. He was there throughout the two-day negotiations. He led them.

“I wasn’t negotiating with them (NARD). I was negotiating with the NMA. So, call the NMA for their reaction.

“I didn’t negotiate with them (NARD) because their matter has been transmitted to the court. The NARD is in court. So, it is the NMA that we held a meeting with and discussed with.

“I am not negotiating with them. The Ministry of Health is their employer, I am only a conciliator.

“Other unions and bodies like the NMA, the elders’ council, the Office of the Head of Service and the Budget Office, among others, were there and they agreed.”

Nurses, consultants overstretched

Meanwhile, visits round selected hospitals across the Federal Capital Territory revealed that nurses and medical consultants were overstretched in the delivery of health care services to patients as the NARD strike enters its fourth week.

Some nurses, who spoke to The PUNCH at the Gwarimpa District Hospital, lamented the absence of resident doctors, who, according to them, led them to assume the roles of doctors.

At the National Hospital, Abuja, one of our correspondents also noticed that some of the nurses wore long faces, which they said was as a result of stress.

One of the nurses said, “You can’t expect me to smile, I am stressed. As you can see, I am the doctor and I am also the nurse.

“If a patient is not clear with his or her demands, I have to move to another patient as you can’t expect me to stay with one patient for too long considering the number of other patients here.”

The spokesman for the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, Kayode Olomofe, stated that the medical consultants at the centre were also overstretched.

He said, “I can’t lie to you, they are overstretched and strained beyond their limits.

“It is not easy when one person takes on the duty of five or six persons. But they are trying their best. We have been trying to attend to patients.”

As resident doctors refused to call off their strike, many hospital wards were almost empty as most of the patients had been withdrawn by their relatives.

The Oxford Ward (Neonate ward) of the Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesha, an annex of the Obafemi Awolowo Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, Osun State, was almost empty when our correspondent visited on Sunday, as relations of the few children on admission lamented the adverse effects of the ongoing industrial action.

A mother, whose son was referred to the hospital from a private hospital in Ibadan, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the ongoing strike by the doctors made her to approach a substandard private facility in Ibadan, where she was delivered of a baby.

She said when the newborn developed complications, she was referred to Wesley Guild, saying the services rendered to the patients since she arrived at the hospital last Wednesday had been rather poor.

“Some doctors have been coming to attend to these babies, but I learnt that those monitoring the strike must not know. I came here last Wednesday. On Saturday, some doctors came, and immediately they heard that those monitoring the strike were around, they all fled,” she stated.

During the visit to the hospital, nurses were observed at their various duty posts, but many of the wards did not have patients.

Speaking on why the Neonate Ward still had patients despite the industrial action by the resident doctors, a staff member, who preferred not to be named, said the ward could not be shut down, because there were children in incubators, who could not be discharged yet.

Five patients left in ATBUTH’s 28-bed ward

When one of our correspondents visited the Male Surgical Ward 1 of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital, Bauchi, on Sunday, it was observed that there were only five patients on admission in the 28-bed capacity ward.

A nurse said of the five patients, only one’s case was critical.

The nurse stated, “The patient has a severe head injury that he sustained in an accident. He was referred from Abuja to this place, where his relatives can closely monitor and take care of him. But he’s stable now and is sleeping.

“He was brought here a few days ago; he is getting care from the consultants, who come daily to check him, and that is why he is this stable.”

FMC Abeokuta wards empty as families evacuate patients

At the Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, most of the wards are empty of patients.

One of our correspondents observed that some of the wards, such as the accident and emergency and orthopaedic, were almost empty.

One of the nurses, who spoke to The PUNCH, described the situation as tense.

She said, “The situation is tense. There are no patients, everywhere is almost empty except for the orthopaedic ward that has few patients, who are victims of accidents and have bone issues.

“Virtually in all the wards, there are no patients except at the orthopaedic ward, because the patients there stay longer in the hospital.

“But in all the other medical wards, there are no patients. Doctors are not even coming. Consultants are also not coming frequently.

“They only attend to 15 outpatients on their clinic days, because the patients are no longer in the hospital. Everywhere looks deserted.”

A resident doctor said the impact of the strike was expected to be much, because of the importance of resident doctors in hospitals.

She said, “Resident doctors are many. We have junior registrars and senior registrars, even house officers and medical officers; they are all resident doctors. Only consultants and youth corps members are different.

“It is only doctors and nurses that are working. There are not enough personnel to monitor the operation.”

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