Reasons have emerged why the Federal Government may not be able to meet the demands of doctors under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), who have threatened to resume their suspended strike action in three weeks if the former failed to meet their demands.
Resident doctors are those who have completed medical school and work under the supervision of senior doctors and they provide much of the front-line care, including in emergency rooms.
The Guardian investigation revealed that the cut in the budget for health and education sectors must have affected the said provision for residency training in the 2020 budget.
The Federal Government on June 3, 2020, slashed the 2020 budgetary allocations for basic health care from N44.4 billion to N25.5billion, and for Universal Basic Education (UBE) from N111.7 billion to N51.1 billion.
The Guardian reliably gathered that the funds for the residency training was part of the monies cut in the 2020 budget.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, refused to pick his calls and reply to questions sent to him as regards efforts to meet the demands of the resident doctors.
President, NARD, Dr. Aliyu Sokombo, told The Guardian yesterday that the FG has abandoned all the promises they made to the association before they suspended the strike action on June 15, 2020. Sokombo said contrary to promise made by the government that monies to take care of part of their demands were captured in the 2020 budget, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, told the association at a meeting on Monday 20, 2020, that the FG does not have money and is looking for funds.
Sokombo said: “As you recall five weeks ago we commenced an indefinite strike but suspended it one week after government promised to meet our demands. They promised the payment of life insurance cover and payment of debt in service in next of kin to the doctor. But immediately we suspended the strike, they abandoned their promise. They also promised to pay hazard allowance for six months but they paid only two months to some people before we suspended the strike. The FG has abandoned all that now. They have not made any progress.
“They stopped payment for residency training. They promised it was captured in the 2020 budget. But it has become obvious that they were not telling us all the truths because the budget has been signed into law. Nothing is working. Basically, everything is where we stopped the discussion before we suspended the strike. We gave them four weeks to meet our demands but that expired on July 19, 2020. They waited until that day to invite us for any kind of discussion for Monday 20, 2020. It is embarrassing that government is not sincere.
“At the meeting last Monday, they said they do not have money that they are looking for funds. Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngigie, said he has personally taken the case to President Muhammadu Buhari but the government does not have money. We do not understand their position that they do not have money considering the wastages in governance. We have written them and given them three weeks to meet our demands or we resume the industrial action.”
There are fears that the health sector and efforts to contain the deadly COVID-19 may collapse because resident doctors may resume their suspended strike action soon.
Sokomba faulted the non-payment of the COVID-19 hazard inducement allowance to all health workers across the country in spite of repeated promises by government. He alleged insincerity of officials of the executive arm of government in paying the outstanding salary shortfall of 2014, 2015 and 2016 under the guise of appealing the decision of the National Industrial Court. The NARD president expressed concern over the plight of members of the association in state hospitals such as the non- domestication and non-implementation of the Medical Residency Training Act, the non-implementation of appropriate salary structure, non-payment of salaries, and recently, the slashing of salaries of doctors and other healthcare workers by Kaduna and Kogi states.
Sokomba decried the sorry state of the healthcare delivery system in the country which, according to him, is characterized by perpetual unavailability of personnel protective equipment for workers in the hospitals with the attendant increase in infection rates and unnecessary suffering of patients and their relatives following the use of obsolete equipment, machines and technology.
NARD urged the governments to provide adequate personal protective equipment for all healthcare workers, ensure universal implementation of the Medical Residency Training Act in all federal and state hospitals and ensure pay parity among doctors of equal cadre.
The association advocated provision of funding for medical residency training in the 2021 Appropriation Bill even as it called for stoppage and immediate refund of all illegal, unjust and callous cut in salaries of its members by Kaduna and other states.
But with over 40,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 15,000 infected individuals discharged and more than 801 deaths, the underfunded healthcare facilities are being compounded by medics threatening strike action and it is feared to cause more harm considering the rising morbidity of the novel coronavirus.
It is also feared that any further reduction in human capital would hamper the capacity to tackle the health crisis created by this pandemic. Critics say as this pandemic persists, the challenges plaguing already frail Nigerian healthcare is worsened with care givers struggling to survive. Many patients turned back from accessing care during strike, with many sick patients losing their lives.
There are concerns that another industrial action may worsen the poor doctor-to-patient ratio and increase the number of deaths due to coronavirus infection.
Several studies have shown that frequent healthcare workers’ strikes result in the closure of public healthcare institutions, thereby preventing Nigerians’ access to quality health services.