Doctors’ Strike: Health Minister Challenges NMA to Public Debate

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The ongoing effort to end the nationwide strike embarked upon by doctors suffered a set back as the negotiations between the federal government and the Nigerian Medical Association, (NMA) took a down turn as the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, at the weekend challenged the NMA to a public debate.

Chukwu at a press conference in Abuja to update journalists on the logjam explained that “they (NMA) have signed the second MoU with us on July 3, last week Thursday. For two times now, they have said they would call off the strike; they have signed. I don’t know, when someone gives you a cheque, you are expected to go and cash your money.”

Regarding the veracity of government’s position that it had fulfilled its responsibility in the agreement,  the minister said: “absolutely, 100 per cent absolutely.”

To that effect, Chukwu told journalists, “that is why I said maybe we should have a high-powered debate before the Nigerian public. Let each side state what their issues are, let us take it one by one. I am assuring Nigerians that as their Minister of Health, on my honour, the federal government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan has done what it ought to do. That is why they signed an MoU.”

“Why will you sign an MoU when you are not satisfied with the negotiation? These two negotiations took place over 24 hours; that is a whole day without sleep,” Chukwu observed.

But in a swift reaction, the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), yesterday took a swipe at the comments of the minister,  stating that, such statements smacks of “unusual methods of solving industrial dispute.”

MDCAN President, Steve Oluwole, in response to Chukwu’s call for a public debate rather suggested the involvement of external mediators to facilitate the early resolution of the differences between the government and the NMA.

According to Oluwole,  “this is a novel proposal by the Minister of Health. It is of little use second-guessing while this unusual method of solving industrial dispute was proposed or contemplated.”

“The gallery of the public is unlikely to be sufficiently informed and grounded on the issues to play unbiased umpire between the minister and the NMA. The theatre of debate may, however, not do either party much good.”

He said “while the frustration of the Ministry of Health in coming to a quick resolution of the problems is not difficult to perceive,  it should not come to its wits end because of the decision of the delegate meeting of the NMA to continue with the strike.”
Regarding the continuation of the strike after signing two (MoUs) with the federal government, Oluwale maintained that “the mindset of the negotiation team of the government and that of the delegate meeting of the NMA regarding MoUs, however, differ widely.”

“There is, therefore, a very unfortunate impasse that is unlikely to resolve as long as both sides maintain their positions. Thus, a third MoU that will resolve differences appears a difficult objective to achieve.”

“Since the negotiations teams have met twice without much progress, bringing in external mediators may be helpful. Such mediators may include respected doctors who will bring their experience in administration and standing in the medical profession to bear on both sides. Without doubt, solution should be found within days not weeks for all sides to preserve their obligations to the agreement.”

Meanwhile, the strike embarked by the doctors continues to bite hard on patients as public hospitals in Makurdi, the Benue State capital and its environs have remained closed and deserted. At the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) and the Makurdi General Hospital yesterday, all sick patients on admission at the hospitals had been moved out by their relatives.

It was also gathered that no doctor on call or duty at the hospitals reported for work in line with the directives of the NMA Though nurses in the hospitals were seen rendering skeletal services to some sick patients and few emergency cases, activities at the hospitals were generally low.

A nurse on duty at the FMC who craved anonymity, said none of the doctors on duty had reported for work since Tuesday. “None of our doctors reported at the hospital since Tuesday as a result of the strike, and the development has forced all patients on admission to vacate their beds in search of medical attention in private hospitals in town.” She said.

In his reaction, the Chairman, Joint Health Staff Union (JOHESU), Mr. Moses Shausu, said the strike had paralysed activities in public hospitals in the state.

“You know that services in a hospital is a team work; so if a doctor is not on duty for consultation services, there will be a problem because other staffers will find it difficult to carry out ancillary services, that is the effect of this strike.”

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