One month after health workers, under the auspices of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), embarked on an indefinite strike to drive home its demands for improved welfare and other issues, health care provisions at the federal health facilities and some state hospitals have been grounded. Investigations by New Telegraph showed that federal and state hospitals that have joined the strike were in Lagos, Niger, Imo, Niger, Kebbi, Owerri, Kano, Bayelsa, Plateau, among others.
Yesterday, the 761-bed Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), which used to record lack of bed space, had only 70 patients in the facility. The majority of those left behind were patients who could not pay their bill and, therefore, held back and those that do not have anyone to assist them. A source said that the patients had been discharged because of the strike.
The out-patient areas were similarly deserted, but doctors on duty saw a few patients who were at the facilities for attention. At the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), the out-patient waiting areas and the Record Unit were locked up, while nurses, laboratory scientists, physiotherapists, among others, downed tools.
Apart from the federal hospitals which were seriously affected because the health workers complied fully with the instruction to go on strike, state hospitals also joined a week ago.
JOHESU declared the strike on midnight of April 17, after its efforts to get the Federal Government to meet its demands failed, hence, prompting about 90 per cent of the health workforce, all of whom are members of the union to proceed on strike, which has left many patients unable to access medical care. JOHESU members include five registered associations – the Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutes (SSAUTHRIA), National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), Medical and Health Workers Union (NHWU) and the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Workers (NUAHP).
Last week, the national leadership of JOHESU directed its members in the states and local governments to join the health workers’ strike. At the time of visit to the Kubwa General Hospital, Abuja, the facility had been deserted by patients who either left voluntarily to seek medical assistance at private clinics, or were advised by the hospital management to do so.
Only one doctor was on ground attending to emergency cases, while most of the wards and significant sections in the hospital, including the maternity ward, Out-Patient Department, laboratories, to mention a few, were locked up.
The very few wards that were opened had turned to cinema halls for some cleaners gossiping and watching television. Mrs. Julie (not real name) is one of the many Nigerians affected by the ongoing strike embarked upon by health workers.
In her 39th week of pregnancy, carrying a foetus that was breached, she was in a confused state on what next to do to deliver her first child successfully, though she had paid the required bills before the commencement of the strike.
The Niger State General Hospitals and other health care facilities remained closed, according to the New Telegraph. When our correspondent visited the general hospital in Minna, there were no patients as medical services were almost paralysed. In the same vein, the Neo Natal Hospital, located on old Airport Road, Minna, had its gates locked while the premises were empty at 2p.m. yesterday.
The state Chairman, NMA, Dr. Mustapha Makanta Yahaya, in a statement, called on health workers in the state to thread with caution in joining JOHESU to press home its demands so as not to jeopardise the goodwill of the state government which “has been very supportive of the health workforce” in terms of adequate remuneration.
The Medical Director, Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Birnin Kebbi, Dr. Abdullahi Ibrahim, said the hospital did provide skeletal services to patients for emergence cases. Ibrahim said the centre was just running an emergency.
He said: “We are going to utilise the available manpower we have in the centre for the period of the strike.” Similarly, activities at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri were skeletal as the medical centre was deserted. A visit by our correspondent to the centre yesterday showed a desolate medical facility with the usual buzz of activities and milling patients and staff totally absent.At the Accident and Emergency Unit at FMC, Owerri, which is known for its busy nature, only a handful of patients were in the ward while they were attended to by scanty personnel.
A patient, who was waiting outside to get the hospital card, told our correspondent that the pay points where the hospital cards were purchased were closed and patients had to wait and pay inside the Accident and Emergency Unit. All the Kano Stateowned hospitals were affected by the ongoing strike while hundreds of patients abandoned the facilities for private ones.
Our correspondent, who went round the hospitals, saw many patients leaving for their homes or private hospitals while those whose conditions were critical stayed behind.
Rabiu Sani, who was suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, with acute fever at the Abdullahi Wase Hospital, said he had nothing to enable him to leave the hospital; hence he couldn’t leave.
Many of the wards visited at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan were almost empty because the patients have been discharged just as new patients were not admitted.
The UCH Public Relations Officer, Mr. Deji Bobade, said almost all the 1,000-bed space in the hospital were now vacant since the management could not admit patients.
The mortuary section of the hospital, which was always busy with staff and relatives of the deceased clustering its front view, was yesterday desolate. Some health workers were merely seen gathering, talking about the state of their plight. Chairman of JOHESU at UCH, Ibadan, Olusegun Sotiloye, said the government has not been sincere during the series of meetings between the Federal Government and the union. “This is because the Federal Government is playing game with the negotiation.
We had a meeting last Friday, and another one is billed for tomorrow (today). Our prayer is that the government will be serious about the negotiation for the sake of Nigerians,” he said.
Only skeletal services were being provided at the Ilorin General Hospital as well as Civil Service Clinic in Kwara State, especially at their General Outpatient Departments (GOPD).
The Maternity Wing of the Civil Service Clinic was closed while there were several empty chairs at the GOPD, which used to be a beehive of activities. The same scenario was also repeated at the General Hospitals, Offa and Omu- Aran where checks by our correspondent indicated that the strike was equally very effective.
A nurse at the Genera Hospital, Ilorin, said only a few of them were on ground to offer services in critical areas. “All the nurses and others are on strike as you can see, but a few of us are still working in the critical areas, and that is even to offer skeletal services,” she said. Also, the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Plateau State Specialist Hospital, Local Govern ment Primary Health Centres, among others, were affected.
The state Chairman of the JOHESU, Comrade Ayuba Dangana, said the union had vowed to continue with the strike across the state, including the Primary Health Centres in the villages to ensure total shutdown of the health sector. In Bauchi State, the strike has grounded activities at the state hospitals, leaving patients stranded. At the General Hospital in Bayara and the Specialists’ Hospital, Bauchi metropolis, health workers had deserted the hospitals.
The Chief Medical Director (CMD), Bauchi Specialist Hospital, Dr. Ya’u Sulaiman, toldNAN that with the absence of the health workers, activities in the hospital was at a stand-still. “We are working out modalities to see how to handle the situation and save lives. “For now, the patients that are stable have been discharged so as to enable us concentrate on those that need maximum care,” he said.