Health Minister decries doctors' refusal to end strike

By The Citizen
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The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, has expressed dissatisfaction with the decision of medical doctors under the aegis of Nigeria Medical Association to continue with the ongoing strike.

Chukwu expressed disappointment at the doctors' decision, saying that the Federal Government had hoped that the doctors would call off the strike after its Emergency Delegates Meeting that ran through Monday till the early hours of Tuesday.

The minister said the doctors after the meeting insisted on continuing with the strike because the Federal Government offers were not in tandem with their expectations.

Chukwu, who spoke in Lagos on Tuesday, said the doctors had compressed their demands to three and these revolved around the payment of their six months' salary arrears, approval of skipping of levels for some cadre of doctors and appointment of other health professionals as consultants as conditions for ending the strike.

He lamented that in spite of efforts being made by the government to end the strike, the doctors remained resolute to continue the action.

He said, 'I got a call that made it clear to me that after our long overnight meeting and in spite of the fact that I, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, and some lawmakers went to address them around 11pm; they resolved not to return to work. We are actually addressing most of the issues that can be addressed through administrative processes. With that, we expected them to return to work but that has not happened.'

He said the Federal Government had started moves to pay the salary arrears, adding that matters relating to skipping and appointment of consultants were still in the court and so could not addressed now.

However, he explained that government negotiators were working on modalities on how the issues could be resolved amicably.

He said, 'They are requesting that accrued arrears since January be paid. They said until they receive the payment alert on their phones, they would not call off the strike. But, we pleaded with them to be patient because the appropriation bill took a long time to be passed at the National Assembly.

'Another reason they gave for not returning to work has to do with the issue of consultants. Since the 1970s to 90s, non-medical doctors have been appointed by various hospitals and those hospitals are being managed by medical doctors. Again, when NMA complained, I stopped it. It was also the reason why others went to court and the court ruled that the ministry and government had the right to decide who should be a consultant in their hospitals but the NMA asked the ministry to disobey the court, which is not possible. If they were the ones that got the judgment in their favour, will they expect government not to implement?'

Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday appealed to the striking doctors to call off their one-week strike to avoid further loss of lives.

However, the NMA in text message to one of our correspondents after its delegates meeting on Tuesday said its members would not suspend the strike until its demands were met.

The message read, 'After a holistic review of the circulars and resolutions reached between the NMA and the Federal Government negotiation team; the delegates were not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting between the two parties and resolved to continue with the strike until the Federal Government do the needful.'- Punch.