By Gabriel Chy Alonta & Chinelo Nwangene
Checks by Orient Daily reporters and correspondents in parts of the state on Tuesday revealed that Anambra state government hospitals have been deserted following the withdrawal of services by doctors under the aegis of ‘Conference of Anambra Civil Service Doctors’ protesting poor welfare and working conditions.
Nurses at the Children’s and the Accident and Emergency Ward of the Chukwemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital (COOUTH), Awka, told Orient Daily that children in the ward had been discharged due to the strike.
A nurse who identified herself simply as Uju, disclosed that nurses and other health workers who reported for work at the hospital were idle due to lack of patients to treat.
On the issues that led to withdrawal of services by medical doctors, the nurse confirmed that Anambra state “government is not treating the doctors well, even us the nurses. We also have our own grievances because it is not what nurses earn in other states that we are paid.”
She went further: “There is generally poor conditions of service here and we are not happy about it. It is not that we do not make enough revenue for government. We have massive influx of patients and the doctors are aware of this. So, it is not right that after toiling day and night, one will still not be remunerated adequately”.
According to her, if not for the monitoring exercise by the hospital’s management, nurses in the hospital would have absconded from their duty posts.
An accident victim at the hospital, who was pleading for medical attention when Orient reporters arrived, pleaded with the state government to address the grievances of doctors so that they would return to work and treat them. “Health is wealth. The government should not play with the health of her citizenry”, she said.
When Orient Daily visited Enugwu-Ukwu General Hospital, the hospital was deserted as patients were all discharged due to the strike except for a particular patient who went for surgical operation a week ago.
The doctor at the hospital who will not want his name in print, said that it was unfortunate that Nigeria government does not listen until one embarks on a strike. He said that the strike affected number of patients in the hospital, calling on government to urgently do the needful.
Another nursing mother at the maternity ward of the hospital said that the nurses took care of her while she delivered yesterday. At the male ward of the hospital, no patient was sighted by our reporters.
Announcing the kick-off of the industrial action at the Enugwu-Ukwu General Hospital in Njikoka local government area on Monday, Dr. Livinus Chukwuma, disclosed that throughout this week, medical doctors in Anambra General Hospitals, Comprehensive Healthcare Centre and Cottage hospitals would not attend to any patient.
Chukwuma, who is the chairman of the Civil Service Doctors in Anambra state said the association was left with no other option than to shut down operations in the affected hospitals following failure of the state government to address their grouse.
According to him, the Anambra state government had failed to fully implement the Consolidated Medical Salary Scale (CONMESS) and provide adequate funding and equipment to enable doctors carry out diagnosis and treatment. He called for 100 per cent payment of CONMESS in Anambra as obtained in other states, adding that manpower was aging as young doctors no longer found it attractive to be in the employ of the state.
He said: “There was a Memorandum of Understanding between Anambra Government and doctors represented by the Nigeria Medical Association in 2012 where government agreed to pay 50 per cent with promise to improve on it.
“Nothing has been done on that and with the revised-CONMESS, the state government is now paying just between 35 per cent and 40 per cent CONMESS, so we are calling for full pay as provided in the structure.
“We have about 60 doctors in our association but many of them are due for retirement, others are leaving the service to other states while young doctors are refusing to join because of poor pay,” he said.
Also reacting, Dr. Christopher Okonkwo, secretary of the body said there was poor motivation among doctors in the state. He said the struggle was for the good of the sector and urged the public to join the doctors to appeal to government to improve the sector.
A medical staff of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital (COOUTH), Awka, who identified herself simply as Dr. Uchenna, described the latest industrial action embarked by the body ‘as an ill wind that blows nobody good’.
According to her, “I feel sad about the strike because our end users, the patients suffer whenever health workers go on strike and death rate also increases. This, as well, affects the health workers because anyone can be sick at any particular point”.
She decried the poor welfare of health workers, especially doctors, stressing that “Anambra state doctors are not properly remunerated, compared to other neighbouring states. Poor salary has made our teaching hospital a transient place; we lose doctors monthly because of poor salary to other teaching hospitals”.
On what the government has done to tackle the plight of the medical doctors, she added, “I believe that the state government has been meeting with the striking doctors but I feel that a drastic approach need to be employed to end the strike to avoid prolonged strike which happened in the last administration”.
Meanwhile, the warning strike commenced five weeks into the indefinite strike embarked by the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital (COOUTH) branch. Also, the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), resumed work on June 17 after a one-week warning strike with a threat to go on indefinite strike before the end of the month if Anambra government refuse to address their demands.
Efforts to reach the commissioner for health, Dr Vincent Okpala as he was said to be out on his first official assignment in Nnewi, failed but a top government official who preferred anonymity said that the government was addressing the situation.