WHEN HOSPITALS BECAME GHOST TOWNS
An empty corridor at the Lagos State Teaching Hospital, Ikeja during the recent doctors' strike in Lagos
Last year, for the first time, a salary scale table was released by the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission addressing the concern of medical and dental practitioners known as the Consolidated Medical Salary Scale (CONMSS).
From independence till last year, circulars were always released by the Commission to cater for all medical professionals in the health sector. Over the years, the Wages and allowances Commission had always treated all health workers equally with differentials on grade levels that is based on expertise, knowledge and skills.
The Consolidated Medical Salary Scale which amounted to 100 percent increment in doctors pay and the 25 percent offered other health professionals were unacceptable to their unions and they threatened strike.
All the 27 health professionals in the health sector called the attention of the government to the existence of disparity between the Medical Salary Scale and Health Salary table as contained in circular 1 of 1991. The Medical Salary scale was made for doctors while the Health Salary Scale was meant for other professionals.
However, the Federal Ministry of Health announced that government has granted approval for the implementation of a Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) for pharmacists, Medical Laboratory Scientists, Physiotherapists, Radiology and Imaging Scientists, Optometrists, Nurses and other health workers in the Federal Medical Agencies. This was in addition to the approval given for the new Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS to cater for Medical and Dental officers in Federal Agencies by the government in September last year.
It would be recalled that the then Minister of Health, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin made it clear to the Unions at that time that the new CONMESS being negotiated then would be concluded upon and approved before January 2010, when the implementation of CONMESS is expected to commence.
Well, the approval of the new CONMESS did not come without its challenges for state governments. While the federal government, with its financial might began the implementation of the CONMESS since June for doctors in Federal Government employment, virtually all state governments has declared their inability to pay the CONMESS.
A source close to the Lagos State government told Daily Sun that the government said that paying the CONMESS to Lagos state employed doctors will cost her a whooping 1.8 billion Naira monthly.
Doctors working for theFederal government are smiling to the banks with the implementation of the CONMSS at the federal level, but state government employed doctors are insisting that they should not be treated less than their federal partners on issues of remuneration. The stalement created as a result of this, has led to Doctors' strike across states of the federation.
Chairman of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Lagos State chapter, Dr Temiye Olusoji told Daily Sun that the NMA has appealed to state government to adjust doctors' salaries in their states to something acceptable to the doctors if they cannot implement it fully like the federal government. Some states have done that, yet doctors want 100 percent implementation in the states.
The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) on Monday, July 5, 2010 insisted that the strike embarked upon by its members would continue until the Government meets their demands.
The National President of the association, Dr John Tunde Aremu, disclosed this at a press conference, held at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, where he appealed to well meaning Nigerians to assist in making government see why the current impasse between them should be immediately resolved.
Making reference to an emergency National Executive Committee meeting held on Saturday, July 3, 2010 in Zaria, he said NARD stance as contained in its ultimatum still stands and remains the same.
Resident doctors nationwide went on strike in June to press for, among other things, improvement of infrastructure in the hospitals, proper funding of residency training, re-introduction of past-part 1 overseas clinical attachment and the implementation of the CONMESS, including the immediate payment of the arrears accrued from January 2010.
The Federal Government began the implementation of CONMESS for doctors working in Federal Government owned hospitals that June, leaving the states to follow suit.
He recalled that in those situations, the affected bodies were able to source money elsewhere to attend to the demands of the unionists pending the approval of the supplementary appropriation of the appropriate authorities.
He regretted the use of strike by the association to press for its demand, given the painful impact on Nigerians, some of whom are also their immediate relatives, but noted that the only language that makes sense to the Federal Government disputes of this nature is strike.
Borno state doctors began an indefinite strike on August 3, they said it will last until their demands are met by the state government. This followed the expiration of resident doctors three-weeks ultimatum on the implementation of Consolidated Salary Structure (CONHESS) and equipment of 32 general hospitals.
Before the strike, it was learnt that the doctors urged Borno government to improve on the state of facilities in the hospitals, inadequate doctors and nurses and the overstretching of both doctors and existing facilities in the state hospitals.