The strike embarked on by health workers in the country has further compounded the already vulnerable situation created by the rampaging global coronavirus pandemic with its resultant overbearing consequences on the Nigerian health and economic sectors.
The poor masses are worse hit by the industrial action which grounded medical activities in health facilities across the country.
The Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) declared a fresh nationwide strike which commenced 12midnight.
This is coming barely three days after the National Association of Resident Doctor (NARD) called off its life threatening strike.
LEADERSHIP findings revealed that more patients in public hospitals have been badly affected, as they call for an urgent end to what they described as a needless strike.
In a letter that was jointly signed by the president of Medical & Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Biobelemoye Joy Josiah; president of National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Comrade A. A. Adeniji among other NEC members, the health workers announced that their initial 15 days ultimatum issued to the federal government to address their concerns still stands despite a meeting with a delegation of the federal government.
“The 15-day ultimatum still subsists and with effect from midnight of Sunday, 13th September, 2020, our members shall withdraw their services due to federal government inability to meet their demands,” they noted.
The grievances of the workers include failure of government to review implementation of COVID-19 Special Inducement and Hazard Allowance; refusal to pay all withheld salaries of members at JUTH, FMC Owerri, LUTH, including April and May 2018 Salaries; Adjustment of CONHESS salary structure and implementation of ADR consent judgment.
Some of the patients who spoke with our correspondents urged the warring parties to mend fences for the sake of Nigerians, especially those that cannot afford private hospitals.
Our findings last night showed a total deficit of nurses that are supposed to administer medications to patients across the sampled medical facilities.
When our correspondent visited the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) Calabar, one of the patients, Charles Ewa, said the recent situation whereby hospital authorities are now involved in a skirmish with health workers over certain allowances is a cause for concern.
“If I may ask, who is going to take care of us now, is it the doctor alone? I know that doctors don’t work alone; they work hand in hand with nurses who usually compliment their effort to get people like me who are patients to get well,” he said.
Ewa who has been lying ill in one of the male wards of UCTH right before the suspended resident doctors’ strike began appealed to the federal government to do the needful and ensure that JOHESU doesn’t go on strike.
Another patient, Mrs Arit Uwem who said she had about a week to be discharge if not for the strike action, called on the federal government not to delay in settling whatever dispute it has with JOHESU so that people whose last hope is in the hospital don’t die for nothing.
In the University Teaching Hospital, Port Harcourt, some of the patients currently on admission are only hopeful that the nationwide strike embarked on by JOHESU does not last just as that of the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD).
One of the patients who identified himself as Christian said he was expecting the strike to end soon.
“All of us are in this country. For some years now, have you seen any strike by health workers last in Nigeria? Just last week, resident doctors announced strike, but in less than five days they called it off. However, I have not heard about any strike by health workers starting today.”
A caregiver of one of the patients in the hospital, Pastor Collins, also told LEADERSHIP that they have no plans of evacuating their relative from the hospital.
He said, “For me, I have no plans of evacuating him from this hospital because I know that in few days now, JOHESU will call off the strike.”
During the resident doctor’s strike, the Federal Medical Centre Owerri (FMC) presented a pitiable situation as a result of the strike action embarked on by the doctors.
One of the patients, John Okere, lamented the lack of attention as he said the strike had affected him drastically without doctor’s attention.
LEADERSHIP observed that most relatives of patients in the FMC had started moving their loved ones out of the hospital to private clinics.
Speaking with our correspondent, the Public Relations Officer (PRO), JOHESU, Dr Solomon Nwafuru, said the hospitals were paralysed as all activities were grounded.
Also, it was learnt that Patients in the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex, Ilesa and the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, suffered lack of attention during the nationwide strike by resident doctors.
Mrs Badejo Adeyi lamented the neglect of her son who was suffering from severe burnt and receiving treatment at the children ward of the hospital.
Obviously traumatised by the strike action by the doctors, Mrs Adeyi had appealed to the federal government to give priority attention to the demand of the doctors.
The situation is not different in most of the states and the federal capital territory as many Nigerian appealed to the striking health workers to shelve the strike, lamenting its action on their lives and those of their loved ones.
Meanwhile, the federal government has directed the various Unions in the health sector operating under the umbrella of joint health sector unions not to go ahead with the strike, saying the Ministry of labour and employment has apprehended the dispute with the reconciliation that was initiated on Thursday, which is still ongoing.
A statement by the deputy director, press and public relations in then ministry, Charles Akpan, noted that going ahead with the action would be illegal as it is in clear breach of the ILO principles and conventions on strike and section 18 of the trades disputes Act, Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The minister urged JOHESU not to arm-twist or intimidate the federal government that has shown clear commitment to tackling the challenges in the sector as evidenced by the huge resources it has been pouring into the Sector since the Global Covid-19 pandemic broke out.
The statement noted: “The Hon Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige has effectively apprehended the trade dispute as forwarded to him by JOHESU and has brought JOHESU and the Federal Ministry of Health, their employers, to conciliation since Thursday, September 9, 2020.
“Parties in disputes are expected not to arm-twist, intimidate or foist helplessness on the other party while negotiations are ongoing as per Sections 8 and 18 the of Trade Dispute Act (TDA) 2004 barring any strike when the matters are before a Conciliator and undergoing conciliation.
“Any strike now is inimical to an equable settlement of the dispute, bearing in mind especially that this is a grave period of a pandemic where the Federal Government has spent about N20 billion to pay April/May 2020 and an additional N8.9 billion for June 2020 on Covid-19 hazard and inducement allowances respectively to all categories of health workers that are mainly JOHESU members.
“Besides, all Health workers on essential services such -Pharmacists, Nurses/Midwives, Radiographers as members of JOHESU are statutorily barred from strikes during emergencies, by both the ILO Statutes and the Trade Dispute Act 2004. Such an action while the nation battles the Covid-19 emergency accentuates its illegality, as it will compound and aggravate the challenges in health services, causing further risk and deaths to the sick in hospitals across the country as the Covid-19 pandemic has been declared as a situation of “Acute National Health crisis” by both the ILO and World Health Organisation (WHO) whose Statutes and regulations have forbidden strike for the period.
“It should be noted too that all categories of all unions in the health sector commended the Federal Government for ensuring adequate supply of protective personal equipment (PPE) to enhance the safety of all health personnel in the federal institutions as well as the extension of same to all state owned Health Institutions”.
The federal government urged the leadership of the various unions constituting JOHESU to have a rethink on this illegal strike by putting the welfare of their patients and Nigeria first.
As of the time of filing this report last night, JOHESU said they will only go back to work if their demands are met by government.