By James Obute with Agency Reports
Mixed feelings have greeted President Goodluck Jonathan’s sack of resident doctors in Nigeria. According to a statement by the Deputy Director of Press, Federal Ministry of Health, Isiaka Yusuf, the directive was without prejudice to any emergency measure that may be necessary for the hospital management to immediately restore full medical services.
However, the President, National Association of Resident Doctors, ARD, Jubril Abdullahi said the president’s directive is illegal. The sack notice was contained in a directive by Jonathan to the Federal Ministry of Health to suspend all resident’s training programmes for Nigerian doctors.
The directive was contained in an internal memo dated August 13 and signed by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, L.N. Awute, to federal hospitals. Mr. Awute said the president’s directive was given following an appraisal of the challenges facing the health sector.
“Mr. President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR has suspended the Residency Training Programme for Doctors in Nigeria indefinitely for the purposes of appraising the challenges facing the health sector,” Mr. Awute said.
He said the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, has also directed that “letters of termination of residency training” be issued to all affected resident doctors in hospitals immediately. The memo asked the management of all public hospitals to take necessary measures to restore full medical services in the hospitals, even without the resident doctors.
In what appears to show the reason for government’s action, the permanent secretary said the hospital could employ part time doctors who must be of ‘good behaviour.’
“Note however, this is without prejudice to the employment of Locum Physicians on six (6) months renewable contract tied to productivity and good behaviour,” Mr. Awute said. Such recruitments must, however, be “be approved by Mr. President through the Honourable Minister of Health”. The Federal Government on Thursday defended President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to sack thousands of resident doctors in the nation’s hospitals.
Mr. Awute said the directive was based on an order by President Goodluck Jonathan. Penultimate Thursday, the health ministry released a public statement defending the president’s action. According to a statement by the Deputy Director of Press, Federal Ministry of Health, Isiaka Yusuf, the directive was without prejudice to any emergency measure that may be necessary for the hospital management to immediately restore full medical services.
Mr. Yusuf said that the sack came after successive attempts by the Federal Government to reach a consensus with striking doctors under the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA.
He noted that despite successive intervention meetings, the NMA had gone ahead with its protracted strike action. He said the strike had brought pain to Nigerians in dire need of medical attention.
The doctors affected are to receive one month salary and allowances. They are also expected to return all hospital property in their possession with immediate effect. “It should be stressed that the Federal Government has implemented more than 90 per cent of its responsibilities as signed by both parties. At the conclusion of each meeting, the NMA promised to call off the strike but would return another day to say that they could not.
“For the whole of July 2014, these doctors did not work yet government, owing to the emergency situation in our country, paid them the July salaries with allowances such as call duty allowance, teaching allowance, hazard allowance, etc, believing that this magnanimity of government would appeal to reason for NMA to call off the strike,” Mr. Yusuf said.
Describing the association’s strike as insensitive, Mr. Yusuf said it was pertinent to note that the issues under discussion were the current security challenges in Nigeria with the attendant mass casualties compounded by the Ebola disease outbreak. Mr. Yusuf also said that the Federal Government wished to reassure Nigerians of sustainable optimal medical health care delivery in all hospitals.
However, the President, Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, Jubril Abdullahi the president’s decision to dismiss the doctors was illegal. He said in the light of the ongoing strike, it was evident that the Nigerian government was not ready for dialogue. He said the decision shows that Mr. Jonathan yielded to the demand of the Joint Health Workers Union, JOHESU.
“The action of Mr. President is illegal because there are several Acts that recognize Residencies in Nigeria and his action speaks volume of the government’s decision to follow the dictates of the Joint Health Workers Union. This is one of the issues the union is asking for. “Whatever the government have done in their reaction to the NMA’s strike means they are not ready for dialogue because while we are engaging them, they have resorted to this,” Mr. Abdullahi said, saying members of his association nationwide were about 16,000.
A resident doctor, who spoke on anonymity to avoid persecution, condemned the decision saying he was now officially unemployed. The doctor, a staff of a teaching hospital, said a colleague of his had just sent him another circular ordering all resident doctors to surrender hospital property in their possession.
The circular, said the doctor’s salaries and allowances for one month has been paid in lieu of the notice as they ordinarily are not entitled to any salaries for the period they have been on strike. “In compliance with this order, I am to regrettably inform you that your appointment in this hospital is hereby terminated forthwith,” the letter issued residents doctors in a teaching hospital in the South South region of Nigeria stated.
The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, of which the resident doctors are members, has been on strike since July 1. One of the demands of the NMA was that the Federal Government through the Ministry of Health should formalize and implement the report of the inter-agency committee on residency training.
The NMA also asked the FG to release a uniform template on the appointment of resident doctors and a funding framework for residency training established while overseas clinical attachment be fully restored and properly funded.
Resident doctors are doctors being trained to become specialists/ consultants in different fields of medicine. During their 4 to 5 years training to become consultants, they work in different government hospitals and make up the majority of doctors in teaching hospitals.
“Let’s see how this will work. Except they want to kill the teaching hospitals and the health sector in general,” another resident doctor said. “In our own teaching hospital, about 90 per cent of the doctors are resident doctors, there are few medical officers. So how can you sack 90 per cent of doctors in a hospital?” he asked.