Health sector in crisis as NMA threatens to join resident doctors’ strike

A nationwide industrial action by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which commenced on August 2, 2021, over the demand implementation of agreements reached with the Federal Government on payment of owed salaries and arrears, hazard allowance, residency programme, payment of life insurance benefits to families of members that died of COVID-19 among others, may take a worse dimension if unabated.

This may lead to the shut down of the health sector by next month, as the umbrella body of all medical doctors in the country, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), with over 44,000 practicings/registered members and other affiliates, including the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), threatens to join the ongoing resident doctors’ strike.

NMA in a statement has vowed to join the strike once the FG fails to implement the agreements after the expiration of its 21-day notice, NMA will be forced to declare a nationwide strike and join the resident doctors, we gathered.

The statement read: “The NMA fully supports all her affiliates in their efforts to improve healthcare delivery in Nigeria and the welfare of her members. NEC affirms that no doctor shall be victimised for participating, or not participating in the strike by NARD. If the FG fails to implement the agreements after the expiration of the 21-day notice, NMA shall summon an Emergency Delegate Meeting to review the progress made on the implementation of the agreements.”

This is coming as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Saturday night confirmed additional 53 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, raising the nation’s total fatality from the disease to 2,361. The new fatality figure, confirmation of the biting consequences of the third wave of the pandemic, ranks the highest daily fatality figure in more than a year.

On the other hand, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, has said it is illegal for doctors to expect to be paid when they aren’t at their duty posts.

Speaking at the weekend when Sam Jaja, chairman of the Forum of Health Institutions in Nigeria (FCHIN), paid him a visit in Abuja, Ngige said he will not support the demand of the doctors because it is against the law.

“The doctors want Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act not to apply to them, that we should insert in a government agreement that they should be paid for the period they are not at work. I am being careful about this,” the minister said.

“This is the law and I will not lend myself to illegality, to state in the agreement that a group of Nigerians is above the law. But as a matter of fact, a clause in that agreement states clearly that nobody should be punished for participating or not participating in the strike.

“So what else do they want ? They want me to put in writing that they are above the law. That ‘no work, no pay’ policy should not apply to them, that the ‘no work, no pay’ is no more part of our law, despite the fact that I swore to uphold the Constitution?”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government had issued a circular directing all Chief Medical Directors (CMDs) and Medical Directors (MDs) of state and federal hospitals, to open a work register for doctors. This directive implies that doctors yet to return to work will not be paid August salary, even as NARD claimed that the government was owing to its members in some state and federal hospitals salaries spanning between three months and one year.

Since the commencement of the strike, healthcare delivery in states and federal public health facilities remain epileptic with only consultants and corps doctors available in most facilities to cater to the health needs of the public.

NARD had commenced its nationwide strike after the three months it gave the Federal Government to implement the terms of the MoU it signed with the association in April had elapsed. Since the commencement of the strike, the National Assembly has made several attempts to intervene in the matter by holding meetings with the NARD leadership, but these meetings had produced no concrete result.

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