FG Faults Doctor’s Rejection of Memorandum of Action

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CHRIS NGIGE

•Says N13.3 billion spent on life insurance cover
•NMA dismisses minister’s claim, suggests way forward

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has faulted the rejection of a Memorandum of Action by doctors, saying the federal government had substantially met the demands of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) contrary to their allegation.

He also said the federal government had so far spent N13.3 billion on group life insurance for workers in its employ, including doctors and other health workers in 2020.

But the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has described as untrue the view expressed by Ngige that resident doctors were not mandatorily paid by government during their internship or housemanship training elsewhere in the world, even as it suggested the way out of the crisis in the health sector.

Faulting the rejection of the Memorandum of Action signed Wednesday March 31, 2021 by the President of NARD, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, the minister explained that some of the demands by NARD were made in error as some of the issues were already conciliated and implemented hundred per cent.
He, however, stated that the outstanding issues which came up at the last conciliation, were timelined along a month life span of implementation, revealing that “ they are still work in progress .”

In a statement issued by his Media Office on Saturday, Ngige faulted the unilateral repudiation of the Memorandum of Action by NARD’s President, describing it as unknown in labour negotiation.
He explained that Okhuaihesuyi didn’t participate in most of the discussions last Wednesday, because he fell ill not quite after the meeting started and had to excuse himself.

According to the minister, the NARD president handed over to his deputy, the Secretary General and other officers of the association, who fully participated in the negotiations.

“NARD made some of the demands in ignorance. They didn’t have the full picture. May be they wished for a strike or their president pushed them into strike so that his name will go into the annals of NARD as one of the those presidents that have taken them on strike. That’s wrong.

“Disowning the MOA duly negotiated is unknown to labour. The two parties to the negotiation signed the MOA. Four officers from government and three from NARD signed the document and the President, who was not at the meeting but fully represented by deputies went to NARD’s NEC and disowned the paper because they were signed by his deputy and secretary general. There is what is called transmission of power. He as the president fell sick and his deputies continued with the meeting. That’s allowed,” he said.

He said, “We spent seven hours and by the time we put our signatures to the papers, it was eight hours”, saying, ab initio, it was wrong for NARD to impose a fait accompli on the federal government while negotiation was ongoing.

“When a trade dispute has been apprehended, no party imposes on the other, a fait accompli. We signed a memorandum that says NARD will go back to its members to educate them on what has been agreed, the timelines placed on them, with a view not to disturb the industrial milieu in the health sector. And we agreed to reconvene after four weeks,” he stated.

He said the reason was to allow enough time to implement the issues in the timeline, some of which would take three weeks, before reconvening, expressing disappointment that NARD made a detour and mobilised members into action on the Easter eve, when Christians were observing the holiest week in their universal calendar.

He, therefore, dismissed as untrue, allegation that doctors in the public health institutions across the country, were not insured, saying the federal government had spent N13.3 billion in 2020, on Group Life Insurance not just for doctors and health workers alone but also for all workers in the federal civil and public service.

He stated that the reason for the composite exercise was to stop a situation, where ministries and agencies of government worked in silos in payment of death benefits to workers and with lapses in some cases.

“This N13.3 billion was paid to thirteen insurance companies and brokerage firms to administer. And this is not the first time that NARD and teaching hospitals have been told to send in names and make claims for members, who have lost their lives.

“It is an insurance that runs for one year and it is still on till March that just ended and even at that, the new payment is now being processed so that it becomes a continuous thing.”

The Minister added that NARD was again reminded of the development while signing a Memorandum of Action on Wednesday, March 31, 2012 to put up claims through the Ministry of Health; to the Office of the Head of Service of the federation as it was the only basis for payment of premium to the beneficiaries.

“If you have a premium and you don’t make a claim, nobody will pay you. Make your claim, get it in through the Ministry of Health and from there to the Office of the Head of Service. It gets to the Insurance companies and payment will be made.

“With COVID-19, we envisaged that health workers would need this more than any other person, so the federal government rushed the bill. There is a group life insurance in situ now for every health worker, including the doctors and therefore dishonest for anyone to make a claim to the contrary.

“We also have additional insurance from the PTF especially, for those who work inside the Covid-19 isolation centres, for them to get something additional.

“Moreover, there is an insurance for compensation for injuries, diseases and even death in the course of work called Employee Compensation. There is an Act of the Federal Government the Employee Compensation Act being operated by the Nigeria Social Insurance Fund. Once you are insured under it, you make your claim.

Speaking on the Medical Residency Programme, which is the major reason for fresh action by NARD, the minister said the progrramme has been working well since it came up in 2019, and that the House of Representatives had to do a supplementary appropriation to accommodate it in 2020 COVID-19 budget, while the funds had been fully released by the Federal Ministry of Finance.

He urged doctors to respect the Hippocratic oath, which makes the wellbeing of patients cardinal.

NMA, in a statement signed by its president, Prof. Innocent Ujah said, the only way to end the crisis in the country’s health sector was for government to prioritise and improve the healthcare delivery to Nigerians and at the same time improve the welfare of Medical practitioners and other health workers.

The association said in most parts of Europe and America, Resident doctors worked as they were being trained and that they were paid by their employers. It also said the association’s attention was drawn to a live interview granted on Channels TV last Friday by Ngige, where he said in the United States of America (USA) and other developed countries, resident doctors pay for their residency training, whereas in Nigeria, the government pays them.

“In as much as we appreciate the efforts being made by the government to resolve the issues that have led to this avoidable and unnecessary industrial action by the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) wishes to clarify the misinformation by the Minister in the interview, which is seriously viewed to be a hate speech capable of bringing down the health system in Nigeria and thereby worsening the healthcare delivery and further escalate the rather unimaginable current brain drain,” he said.

Ujah explained that in the United States of America and other developed countries, Resident Doctors work as they are being trained and that they are paid by their employers.

Also, he said in the United Kingdom, the employer of Resident Doctors is the

NHS, which is similar to what is obtainable in Nigeria, adding that Resident doctors also pay to take their postgraduate medical examinations in the developed countries, which is what also obtains in Nigeria.

“The NMA is totally in disagreement with the way and manner some government functionaries carry out their duties’ which is completely insensitive to the plight of the people. Accountability is the fulcrum for good governance in all facets and we do not demand anything less from those charged with the responsibility of governing the people,” the statement read in part.

NMA, which acts as the parent body for the Resident doctors in Nigeria, noted that the way to resolve the lingering crisis in the Nigerian health sector was for the government to “prioritise and improve the healthcare delivery to Nigerians and at the same time improve the welfare of Medical practitioners and other health workers, which is considered the most sustainable means of delivering quality healthcare to the people”.

He said the measures would help to reduce the current brain drain being experienced, that is, dealing a deadly blow to the nation’s health care delivery system, and which has made the hospitals to be regarded as mere consulting clinics.

“The NMA wishes to assure Nigerians that it is willing to partner the governments towards enhancing quality healthcare delivery in Nigeria, despite the persistent provocation from its functionaries,” he said