If we may ask, why are our national health care services plagued by so many industrial disputes? It is always that either the doctors, or the nurses, or another arm of the health care providers, is threatening to go on strike, or has gone on strike. Even within the doctors’ rank, there are different groups. This is not good enough.
A few days ago, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) embarked on a nationwide strike, to force the Federal Government to fulfil an agreement allegedly reached with the association.
According to the NARD President, Dr Muhammad Askira, the notice of the strike was designed to: “press home our demand for implementation, in one hand, and also to enable the government enough time to expedite action in arrears not adequately addressed”. He further said that: “NARD still believes that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari will honour all signed agreements as aptly captured during the meeting with the NMA.” So why has the Federal Government not performed on the agreement allegedly reached with NARD?
If our memory serves us well, we know that once the doctors’ demand for enhanced welfare package is met, another group in the sector will use that as a reference to make its own demands. While we have no quarrel with workers asking for better pay packages, we have cause to worry when over and over again, such wage disputes disrupt our national health services. Of note, the association claims the Federal Government is failing to keep its promise despite earlier assurances by the President.
Before the doctors embarked on the strike, the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, reportedly assured Nigerians that the Federal Government was doing all it could to avert the strike. With the strike commencing, is it that the Federal Government was unable to live up to the agreement referred to by the NARD President; or is it that the doctors were making unreasonable demands? Or is it a case of tardiness on the part of government?
It would be unfair to deny the common man the relatively cheaper services that come from the public hospitals, especially now that disposable income is increasingly depreciating. We urge the Federal Government and the striking doctors to realise that the current dispute is adding more hardship to a table overflowing with non-payment of salaries, chaotic public transport system, inadequate urban housing and several other social challenges faced by the urban poor.
Perhaps as part of its change agenda, the Federal Government could commission a comprehensive national wage and benefit chart for all sectors of the economy, so that the perennial challenges of adhoc contest for wages and remuneration by different segments of the labour force would be eliminated. It would be less acrimonious if even before proceeding to study a course, one is apprised of the likely benefits that would come from it. Also, a national statistical planning would help the country project the future demands in every sector, the supply chain and the economic capacity needed to sustain it. Such a plan is important.
We also feel that while the doctors are entitled to demand for enhanced welfare package, the perennial resort to strike does not speak well of them, as essential service providers, sworn on the famous Hippocratic oath. With the strike, Nigerians who cannot afford the costly services of the private health care givers are left to suffer and probably die.
We urge the Federal Government and the striking doctors to resolve their dispute, in the overall interest of our common humanity. If there was an agreement between the government and the doctors, this should be implemented. And if there are reasons why this cannot be, the government and the doctors should come together to iron out the grey areas. Until that is done, however, pacts remain binding.
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