It has been three weeks since the Lagos State government recalled the 788 doctors it sacked in one fell swoop on May 7. Although both parties have sheathed their swords, patients and stakeholders who spoke with Bukola Adebayo expressed hope that the present truce would endure
Peace and normal health delivery appear to have returned to Lagos hospitals following the return to duty of doctors in the employment of the state.
Though patients hinted that things were yet to return to normalcy, The PUNCH observed, during visits to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Isolo General Hospital and Gbagada General Hospital, that normal hospital business had returned.
At least gone were the days that public hospitals in the state were shut against desperate patients in need of emergency care.
The one-month showdown between the doctors under the Medical Guild and the state government saw medical services being withdrawn from patients who were practically hanging unto their lives in both state and federal hospitals in the state.
One of the patients who spoke with our correspondent at the surgical unit of LASUTH on Monday, Mrs.Olunike Adesanya, said the strike had increased waiting time to access medical services at the hospital.
Adesanya said she was supposed to have a surgery for appendicitis last week but had not been scheduled for surgery due to the backlog of patients waiting for the same operation.
She said, “I have been coming here since last week Wednesday, but I have to continue to hold on because they have a lot of patients who should have been operated before I came. I got here as early as 7am just to ensure that I can get a date for the operation and I am yet to see the doctor.”
Another woman, Ms. Angela Okwere, at the Isolo General Hospital, complained to our correspondent that she could not get a bed space in the hospital for her daughter who had typhoid to be admitted.
She said, “We were told that they could not admit my daughter because there was no bed space. They are filled up, so we would have to be coming everyday to receive drip and treatment.
“This is what happens when doctors resume strike. It becomes more difficult to get treatment on time because they would be overwhelmed and the facilities overstretched. We just hope that what happened last month would never happen again.”
Also, at the Gbadaga General Hospital on Saturday, though a weekend, there were many patients waiting to see their doctors.
A pregnant woman, Mrs.Dipe Adediran, said she had missed several appointments during the strike .
She said, ”The antenatal clinic was not operational during the strike, so I am trying to make up. I came on a weekend and I am so surprised that there were many patients ahead of me.
“I am happy that no emergency occurred during that period, but my husband made sure that I also registered with a private clinic just in case they go on another strike. I will advise those who can afford it to also do so.”
However, the Chairman of the Medical Guild, Dr.Olumuyiwa Odusote, has said doctors would be working round the clock to restore health services in the state.
He said, “We know that patient load has gone up due to the long period of strike but we would be working round the clock to make up for the time that was lost. Doctors are back at their respective hospitals, our duty is to offer care and save lives. It was very painful to have gone on strike in the first place but it was not precipitated by the doctors.”
Odusote, who spoke in Lagos on Tuesday, said the Guild had filed a suit against the state government to ensure the full implementation of the Consolidated Medical Salary Scale, and had continued to mount pressure on the government to fully implement it through its national body, the Nigerian Medical Association.
He said,” We have handed all matters of negotiations to the NMA, we will also engage all the groups that mediated in the crisis such as the Nigerian Bar Association and the various unions.
“Unlike what is being propagated, we do not believe in strike, we were pushed to it. Until they were pushed, government did not open doors for negotiation on this CONMESS.”
It appears negotiations that were usually deadlocked in the past, may be productive this time. According to the Lagos State Chairman of the NMA, Dr. Temiye Edamisan, the state government had responded positively to the request for another round of negotiations for the implementation of CONMESS.
Edamisan said, “We wrote a letter to the state government for a new round of negotiations two weeks ago and they have responded to the letter two days ago, precisely on Monday requesting for more time for them to handle matters involving the Dana plane crash. We respect that.
“We would give them a week or two, then we would write again as a reminder. This goes to show that government is taking a new turn and is ready to build a level of trust with the doctors.”
It would be recalled that the state government after it sacked 788 doctors , employed 373 doctors to replace them. This action has left a bad taste in the mouth of various unions, especially the NMA who accused the state government of casualising doctors.
Edamisan said in spite of the recall of the doctors, the association would still sanction those doctors to serve as a deterrent to others who might want to take up such temporary appointments.
He said, “Their action nearly brought down the image of the association. They took an appointment at a time that was very wrong and one that is punishable by the rules of their profession. They did not mind the impact of their action on their colleagues even after we warned them. We would definitely take an action about that. We would not allow medical doctors to be employed as casual workers on a large scale by the government.”
Also, the National President of the NMA, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, said the association would not take any responsibility for the consequence of their employment with the state government.“ Theirs was an act of indiscipline and disloyalty. The association would definitely not be responsible for anything that comes out of that employment. It is the locum doctors and the state government.”
To prevent future scenario of sacking, threats and intimidation, Enabulele said the state government should honour the agreement that it signed with the Medical Guild.
“The way forward is for government to be responsible. What led to the strike was a case of huge distrust. They should implement the agreement they signed to ensure a good relationship.
We are keeping our fingers crossed, hoping that with all that happened, nobody wants to see that drama play over again. Both the doctors and the state government should make amends and seek a speedy resolution to the fundamental issues, which include CONMESS,” he noted.
Enabulele said though the agitations of the Guild and the association had not been met, a lesson that was learnt by all was the need for government to respect the demands of the people it was elected to govern and for unions to form a united front.
“A monumental lesson that was learnt is that government in spite of its might must respect the wishes of the people they govern. There is no place for arrogance in this government. There must always be an interface in cases of crisis.
“For us as an association, it reminded us of the need for unity to ensure justice. This is what can carry us through crisis. It was the strength of our stand as doctors throughout the nation that helped us overcome a threat to our profession which led to the sack of 788 doctors. That is one of the oaths we took, we must stand as brothers and sisters.”