By Uzoh Ugwueze
Resident doctors at the University of Nigeria teaching hospital, UNTH, Ituku/Ozalla have again returned to battle grounds with the management of the hospital.
Orient Weekend reports that the doctors had several times in the past protested over poor condition of services and facilities at the hospital.
This time, they have resumed protest over alleged fraud and mismanagement of their salaries and other entitlements. The doctors who carried placards marched round the hospital premises chanting songs of disappointment and loss of confidence in the management.
They carried the protest to the accounts department of the UNTH, where they called for the immediate sack of the deputy director of finance, DDF Mr. Chukwudi Onuchukwu whom they claimed has continuously shortchanged them. They also requested the sack of the CMD, Christopher Amah for incompetence.
According to them; “Resident doctors say that the DDF must go. We have been shortchanged for a long time. We are no longer treated as resident doctors. What is due to us have been taken away from us. We don’t know how much is our salary; we don’t know how much is our arrears”
“Today we demand transparency; we demand honesty, openness, accountability. Let us know how much you have spent from our money, the money belongs to us. It is our efforts, it is our sufferings, it is our sweat, and we will not allow you to take it away.”
Addressing newsmen shortly after the protest, president association of resident doctors UNTH chapter Dr. Nwidenyi Isaiah accused the management of trying to divert a certain N100m sent by the federal government to settle their arrears.
He said; “The first N100 million sent was in April, the second one was in October. The first has been disbursed and in doing that the management said they were to share it with us, 70%-30% and we are saying no to that arrangement. The doctors are saying no to that formula insisting that whatever money that comes from the federal government on our behalf should be given to us completely.
They took part of the N70m representing 70% and started paying our advancement arrears. They have paid up to 70 people but they have not given us account of how much they have utilized out of the N70m they claim they want to give us. So we ask them for clarification, accountability, let us know how much of our money have been spent but they said no.
“The doctors are saying they aren’t accepting that; they should give us a breakdown of how that money have been used we don’t want to be shortchanged.
“Also the second N100m that came this October they are now saying that it does not belong to us. That the money was removed somewhere from their account and given to them; we smell fraud and we are not accepting that story because the same people that sent the first one sent the second one.
We do not accept that story and that’s why we are protesting that they should use the money to pay us what we call skipping arrears. Federal medical centre Owerri got the first and shared; now the second one has come they are still sharing it instead of telling stories to their doctors. But it is in the character of UNTH to tell stories.
“There is also an illegal policy that is being implemented by the hospital management; they call it bond deduction. Any doctor that starts work in the hospital, his first call duty allowance is withheld; they remove it; they call it bond deduction. We don’t understand that argument.
What they say is that by the time we will be leaving the system they will refund us the money. It is not true, nobody has ever been refunded and it is illegal. It is ether they send the money to Treasury Single Account or they send the money to the government which they don’t do. They send it to their private accounts and claim that it is bond. How can you remove N98,000 from over 150 new residents and N50,000 from over 130 House Officers, it’s big money.”
“They also extended the period of stay of our house officers by three weeks. We do not accept it because we don’t understand the reason for that. They said it was because other hospital workers were on strike. Yes, other hospital workers were on strike but the house officers were working.
They were coming to work. So for you to extend their stay as a result of strike that was not embarked upon by doctors is wrong. It was by other hospital workers JOHETSU, it’s none of our business and we cannot accept it. The only condition for such an extension is when he embarks on strike but we did not go on strike. So the three weeks extension to house officers is illegal and we don’t accept it.
“We have told the management to refurbish our call rooms. When resident doctors are on call in UNTH some of them go to House Officers house to sleep, some take their call, at midnight they look for where to sleep. Some of them go to Four Corners to stay in hotels. Our call rooms are in shambles.
They are in terrible condition. We have asked the management to refurbish our call rooms, make it look like a place doctors can work. We have been begging them. Some of the beds are broken, there are no foams, and how do you expect a doctor to sleep on the floor.”
However, in a swift reaction, the management of the hospital denied the allegations, saying no fund was released in favour of the doctors. It denied claims by the resident doctors that the fund meant for their salary had been tampered with, pointing out that it was impossible for the management to tamper with any such money that was not in her custody but domiciled with the CBN.
Chief medical director of the hospital, Dr. Christopher Amah, who made this known while reacting to the protest by the trainee doctors, explained that contrary to claims by the aggrieved doctors, the so-called funds released to the hospital in October was not meant for their salaries as the resident doctors have since July 2018 been captured & enrolled into the IPPIS (Integrated Personnel Payment Information System) electronic payment platform and receive their salaries through the IPPIS platform directly from the office of accountant general of the federation through the CBN. Besides there was no information or/and directives whatsoever, written or verbal, from federal ministry of finance or health regarding any such claimed release.
“For purposes of emphasis,” he said, “since the Resident doctors were enrolled into the IPPIS, since July this year, the hospital had nothing to do with payment of their salaries and wondered why they should resort to blackmailing the management.”
Dr. Amah said: “Sometime in April this year the Resident Doctors claimed that as a fall out from their strike the Federal Government promised to pay them whatever they demanded. They claimed that N100 million was released to them by the Federal Ministry of Finance but the management did not receive any document or directive from anywhere to support such a claim, instead we found out that the hospital’s overall annual personnel cost appropriation (meant for payment of salaries of all categories of staff in the hospital) has been depleted by the same amount and the money moved to the GIFMIS electronic platform from where non regular staff salaries are paid. Overall there was no additional one kobo added to our appropriation for the year.
“The residents came up again in October to say another N100 million has been released to them, and we did observe another shift of fund from our overall annual personnel cost allocation to the GIFMIS platform as part of the monthly release for payment of salaries nonregular staff, excluding resident doctors who are by now enrolled and paid on the IPPIS platform. Again we did not receive any official information or/and directives regarding this observation from anywhere. And no additional one kobo inflow was observed with respect to our overall annual personnel cost funds.
“By November, after payment of October salary, it became clear that there were not enough funds to pay all the various categories of staff their statutory salaries. Yet resident doctors were claiming N100m was released for them apart from their regular salaries and insisting management should share the claimed amount to them, even when the hospital does not necessarily owe them anything.
These are all verifiable facts and there is no question of anybody hiding anything, as all cash inflows and outflows are published on the two electronic platforms (IPPIS and GIFMIS) online and available for anybody to see.”
Advising the resident doctors to seek clarification from the relevant ministries, the CMD, stressed that “if the federal government released fund to resident doctors as claimed, they should get the warrant indicating the release as well as clear cut directives as per the fund’s application.
“Again there was no kobo added to our overall annual personnel cost appropriation,” he insisted, explaining that “the money the trainee doctors are claiming to have been released for them is money that is being moved from the overall personnel fund meant for paying all the categories of staff of the hospital.”
On the report that the protesting Resident Doctors shut down the hospital, Dr. Amah described it as fallacious saying the protest in the first place is by only a faction of the ARD “is politically motivated”.
“The reasonable ones did not join them and there was no appreciable negative impact on the activities of the hospital, as even open heart surgeries were being conducted in the cardiac center of the hospital as we speak. Again junior staff promotion Interview exercise is ongoing in the hospital as we speak, while clinical services to patients are on course.”
“The demonstrating ARD which is a faction that has no mandate of all the resident doctors are trainee doctors, who are at various stages of their postgraduate training should be reasonable and serious with their studies and go back to work,’’ Amah said.