IT was a pathetic sight yesterday in most Federal Government-owned teaching hospitals and medical centres, as hapless patients, were turned back by striking health workers.
Except medical doctors, who reported for work, all other health workers, including nurses and pharmacists, refused to render any form of service to sick Nigerians. Instead they massed at the main gates of the hospitals, locked them and turned away patients, who thronged the facilities for medical attention.
The strike went on despite frantic efforts by the Federal Government to restore harmony in the sector.
The health workers under the aegis of Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations and Unions (AHPAU) started the nationwide strike to protest the alleged withdrawal of their teaching allowance and discrepancies in the Consolidated Health Workers Salary Structure (CONHESS).
AHPAU comprises of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI), the Nigerian Union of Pharmacists, Medical Technologists and Professions Allied to Medicine (NUPMTPAM); and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU).
The situation forced the Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu to visit federal hospitals in Lagos yesterday to meet with their chief medical directors and the striking workers.
Commenting on the alleged withdrawal of teaching allowance, Chukwu told The Guardian “it has not been removed, it is still there. The circular says it should be paid to only those that are teaching. Some people advised that we seek clarification from the Salary and Wages Commission. They advised that we should hold on but I said pay as we await clarification. Now the Salary and Wages Commission has come out with the interpretation. They have defined the issue.”
On the discrepancies in CONHESS, Chukwu said: “Before I became the Minister of Health, there was a circular on the Extended Union Salary Scale (EUSS). The equivalent is Consolidated Public Service Scheme (COMPSS). It is the only scale that has levels 16 and 17. So, there is no grade level 11. So, grade level 11 does not exist. So what they do is they promoted people from CONHESS 9 to 11.
“Before I became minister, the Head of Service of the Federation reversed the decision that those who were wrongly promoted should come down. When I consulted with the health workers’ unions, they pleaded that we should allow those promoted wrongly to keep it. So, I met with the Salary and Wages Commission. They said those erroneously promoted can keep it but there will be no more skipping from level 9 to 11.”
Chukwu said the “major bone of contention” was that the health workers should be made consultants, just like the medical doctors.
“The major thing is that they should be made consultants. The issue started with the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan where the hospital on its own without clearance from the appropriate authorities made nurses consultants. So, we told UCH to go back to status quo. They told their members that the minister is only for doctors,” he said.
Chukwu told The Guardian yesterday that the way out of the crisis is for every Nigerian to join me to appeal to them to come back to work. This does not warrant a strike. I think this is a blackmail to the nation.”
At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba yesterday, the Out- Patient Department was shut against patients. Patients with emergency cases were left to their fate. Apart from medical doctors who were seen offering skeletal services, nurses, pharmacists, clerks, and medical technologists did not show up for duty.
The situation is not different at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Ebutte Metta, the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, and Federal Neuropsychiatry Hospital, Yaba.
Activities were also paralysed at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKUTH), Kano, the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH), University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu.
According to the Public Relations Officer of AKUTH, Mr. Aminu Abubakar, full-scale services have been paralysed as doctors attended to only emergency cases.
Chairman of MHWUN in LUTH, Mr. Isiaka Busari, and Chairman, NASU branch of the hospital, Babatunde Uranga told The Guardian that the chief medical directors and the minister of health should be blamed for the strike.
Busari said: “We are on strike simply because of some issues. One of them is teaching allowance and the other is skipping of CONHESS 10, which means that those promoted to CONHESS 11 were brought down to CONHESS 10, contrary to our agreement. We have a directive that any branch, where the management did not comply should go on strike immediately. The other issues are internal ones.
“The issue of teaching allowance use to be from CONHESS 7 and above. Now, the minister of health has stopped the payment. There was a circular, which emanated from the National Salary and Wages Commission to all unions to that effect. Let me tell you, this strike is not a local one. It is national. We are appealing to the minister because we believe that he is for the entire health sector and not a category of staff. So, you imagine you can see doctors they are working but all other categories of staff are on strike. The strike is national involving pharmacists, nurses, physiotherapists.”
But the Chief Medical Director of LUTH, Prof. Akin Osibogun, said: “It is unfortunate that some health workers want to be paid for services they do not render. It is like asking for travelling allowance when your job does not demand that you travel.
What we are saying is that do not teach if you are not paid teaching allowance. The teaching allowance is not for all medical doctors. It is only for consultants and those that are asked to teach. The strike is really unnecessary. As you can see the doctors are working.”
A medical consultant, who preferred anonymity said: “I blame the government for this. You started paying all health workers an allowance and stopped suddenly without going back to explain to them the reason for your action. It is unfortunate that people in the health sector no longer have regard for human life. I do not think that they are considering the number of lives that will be lost because of this strike.”
AHPAU had over the weekend in a letter to President Jonathan Goodluck, lamented that the recent meeting called at the instance of the health minister to address issues bordering on the welfare of its members was deadlocked.
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