Government should attend to the welfare of doctors

For the umpteenth time, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has issued a two-week ultimatum to the federal government to implement the agreement reached on the welfare of its members. They are demanding an immediate increment in the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) to the tune of 200 per cent of the current gross salary of doctors in addition to some new allowances. 

As we saw with the last strike in 2020, this new threat bodes ill for the country. Then, patients requiring healthcare in most government hospitals across the country were either turned back or were left unattended to. Many who required emergency services and without enough funds to seek healthcare in private hospitals unfortunately lost their lives. Yet, this frequent face-off between health workers and government at all levels has not only left an indelible stain on the image of the public health care system in the country, it has also brought untold hardship to many Nigerians. 

We support the aspirations of resident doctors in terms of their welfare, conducive working environment, training and recognition of their contribution as sacrosanct to an efficient healthcare system and a better society. However, we are of the view that an industrail action will not resolve the list of problems confronting Nigeria’s healthcare system now. As previous cases have proven, parties would still return to the negotiating table after several lives have been lost. We therefore plead with the resident doctors to continue to do their work. A more strategic way to resolve this logjam can be attained without bringing untold hardship to patients and other citizens that may need their services in the hospitals. A new mechanism or dispute resolution platform should be explored.  

 We do not believe that the federal government is adopting the right approach to this problem. Healthcare delivery is critical to the well-being of any society.  But over the years, the attention of government, both at the state and federal levels, is at best half-hearted. The resident doctors, like their earlier strike during the Covid-19 pandemic, are not demanding anything new. Their strikes often result from government failure to fulfil agreements freely entered. Lack of continuity of dialogue and diligent oversight by relevant stakeholders in government have over the years contributed to this perennial challenge. If government realises after signing agreements that it lacks either financial wherewithal or that existing instruments do not support proposed actions, officials ought to reconvene the parties for another round of talks. That they never do this explains why the problem persists. 

The federal government must understand that this is not an auspicious moment to dither on the issue of healthcare for the people. It is not lost on Nigerians that their president and many of his top officials seek solution abroad for their own medical challenge at a time our people are practically left to their own devices. Meanwhile, time has also come for the federal government to overhaul its collective bargaining machinery with a view to ensuring effective implementation of agreements it freely enters. Incessant strikes are hugely inimical to the health of the economy and, in many ways, disruptive of the social order.  

However, beyond addressing the current challenge with NARD, the federal government needs to urgently improve the quality of lives of healthcare professionals by making deliberate efforts in that direction. This will not only help to reduce brain drain and medical tourism—two ‘monsters’ that should easily be blamed on insensitivity of government—but also help in the bid to revamp the health sector in the country.  

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