Prof Thomas Agan is the Chief Medical Director (CMD), University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) and chairman, Committee of Chief Medical Directors of Federal Tertiary Hospitals and Medical Centers in Nigeria. In this interview, he speaks on issues bordering on the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) and other sundry issues. RICHARD NDOMA was there
Industrial disharmony in the health sector is seen as major bane of health care delivery in Nigeria. The Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) is currently on strike to press home their demand. How can we resolve this?
It is very unfortunate that at a time like this when we need all hands to be on deck to ensure that the health of the common Nigerian is brought into optimal state, strikes are affecting a lot of Nigerians both old and young. As I’ve always said, it’s unfortunate that strike is arising from demand of improved welfare of the health worker. It is true that JOHESU had placed demands on the federal government and am aware that they had a MoU.
It’s unfortunate that many people will loose their lives, both old and young in the cause of this strike. It is very unfortunate and I sincerely regret and feel bad that the health sector is being paralysed because of welfare matters. All stakeholders must sit and discussed on effective means of addressing industrial disharmony in a critical sector like health because human lives could be put to jeopardy.
Some say the health workers ought to have given government more time…
I don’t know whether I should say that they were too much in haste but what I have to say is that all of us in the health sector swore to protect the lives of our patients. I think strike should be the last thing. I know that they are aggrieved because the government did not seem to want to hear from them. From what I got to hear from some of them, I know they gave the federal government an initial 21 days ultimatum followed by another 30-day ultimatum and they don’t seem to be seeing what the government is doing. I’m not fully aware of their challenges but then over the last 24 hours I’ve been able to read their needs and also listened to my mentors in the federal ministry of health who have shown us the efforts they have made. I believe that this strike should be suspended so that peace will return to the health sector while the government quickly implements the agreement they signed with the people.
How is the strike affecting UCTH?
To the extent that some services have been interrupted. We have witnessed some instances where patients were withdrawn here especially in critical cases because if you do not have enough manpower on ground to manage critical cases there is need to look for a way to handle them. Here in my hospital, the accident and emergency unit is open, the children emergency unit is open, even the neo-natal units are open. The out patients clinics are running because the doctors are still coming. It’s just the major operations that we cannot carry out right now. A lot of patients have requested to go home and you cannot keep the patient because if anything goes wrong he has the right to sue.
In terms of revenue, how has the strike impacted on the hospital?
Definitely revenue has crashed beyond what you are expecting because you know even those who are supposed to make bills and bring the revenue in have to go on strike. It’s an unfortunate situation.
The federal government has given a directive to sack any JOHESU staff that does not come to work. As the chairman of the committee of CMD’S, what’s your take on this?
The employer of labor is the government itself and I agree that the ministry wrote a letter where they said we should apply the no work no pay rule and we should make alternative arrangement but all those things boil down to money and I don’t know where we will get the money to employ. The government is a major employer of labour so like I tell people, no work no pay should actually be applied by the government itself because salaries are paid from the ministry of finance and not the hospital so government has the right to suspend payment of all salaries until people return to work.
Yes, as a result of the strike, a good number of the patients have actually requested for permission to go because so many things are not being assessed as quickly as it should for instance the people that sell around the hospital, a good number of them are not on duty so a lot of patients have actually opted for discharge. However, there are those that are in a critical condition and cannot be discharged so those ones we decided to give them particular attention that’s why we go an extra mile and do the things we do not do routinely.
In a normal working day, how many patients do you normally have here?
In a normal working condition, when everything is in shape, you cannot be fixed. Patients are always in transit, some come in and some go out. Some days you come and a Ward that has bed space of may be 20 you can have all the bed spaces filled. Sometimes you have up to 15 so patients are always in transit. But with this strike, the ward is about 75% empty compared to what is used to be because there has never been a time where the ward has not been less than 80% filled. Orthopedic ward is always about 98% filled all the time the reason is because most of the patients stay in the ward longer because their cases are not cases that will be treated in two to three days. So the patients in the orthopedic and burns department stay in the hospital longer.
It is my humble appeal that the striking JOHESU members should come to work. The government should do what it has to do to solve their problem. At my own level, which is the committee of CMD’S, we feel pained that this matter is still lingering because at the end of it, we are the ones who are sitting at the border. At the end of the day, government will ask us what did you do, how did you manage the situation and what happened. The life we are protecting may be our own lives and like I always tell people, the death of one person may mean zero percent to the nation but it can mean 100 percent to the family directly involved.
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