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Patients groan as resident doctors’ strike bites harder

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As the nationwide strike embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) enters its 15th day, with no end in sight, patients seeking medical treatment in state and federal hospitals have called on the government to listen to the health workers so that they could return to work immediately.

The patients expressed fear that their health conditions had been deteriorating due to lack of access to medical care. They said even though they had the option of visiting private medical facilities and to get treatment, the services were very expensive and beyond their financial capacities.

A visit to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Oba Akinjobi Way, Ikeja, Lagos State, revealed that the NARD’s strike was biting harder than expected. Many patients wore hopeless faces as they patiently waited to be attended to by the few doctors on duty.

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A nurse in the hospital, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that the few health workers available were only attending to accident and emergency cases as well as serious maternity issues. She added that though they would wish to do more, their hands were tied as doctors were really not on ground to attend to patients. She described the number of patients that throng the hospital on a daily basis as overwhelming to the extent that they had to tell some of them to seek medical care elsewhere.

At the hospital’s Rheumatology Clinic, a patient, who identified herself as Mrs. Kehinde, said she had suffered greatly since she was referred to the clinic and that the ongoing strike had worsened her already bad situation.

“The first time I came here, there were hundreds of people and I had to wait a whole day to see a doctor. When it finally got to my turn, I was told to come back in two months time and the date fell on this period of strike. I have been in severe pains but despite struggling to come here, nobody is attending to us. Apart from the long waiting period we have had to endure, we don’t even know when we can see a doctor again as we would most likely be given new dates when the strike is eventually called off,” she explained.

Another patient, who sat beside Kehinde, said he decided to come and try his luck but was told to go home as the clinic had been closed for now. He described the situation as sad, lamenting that the disagreement between the government and the doctors was allowed to get to a head at the detriment of the masses.

“I don’t blame the doctors because they are fighting for their rights. It is our wicked government that I blame; they are the ones responsible for our pain and suffering. They don’t care about the doctors or about the masses because they know they can leave the country at anytime to get the best care in London, U.S.A and other developed countries, leaving us to suffer this poor healthcare system. During the lockdown, clinic did not hold and even after the lockdown was lifted, it wasn’t the same again. If I can afford it, I would have gone to a private hospital but the cost there is about 10 times more. We are suffering and in pain but nobody seems to care about that,” he said.

At the Cardiology Clinic, the scenario was no different. A nurse at the clinic, who didn’t want her name in print, confirmed that the clinic was closed and that they were only attending to emergency cases.

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“We are not authorised to speak to the press but the only thing I can say is that there is no clinic for now. If it’s an emergency, I will advise you go to the emergency section,” she said, adding that patients coming around and waiting were wasting their time because they would not be attended to until the strike is called off.

“I have been telling them to either go home or go somewhere else if they can’t wait, but they keep coming back. What am I supposed to do? I’m not the doctor they are here to see and there is nothing I can do to help them apart from giving them tentative dates pending when the strike would be called off.”

The Accident and Emergency Unit of the hospital was a beehive of activities when The Guardian visited there. Many patients in various stages of distress were laid on seats and on the ground waiting to be attended to.

At Alimosho General Hospital, Igando, activities were at low ebb, as members of NARD complied with the strike directive. Only a few young doctors, perhaps those undergoing the one-year mandatory housemanship, were seen at the facilities.

The bustling Mother and Child Centre (MCC) and other units of the hospitals such as the surgery ward, male medical ward, gynaecology and eye clinics, were quiet as patients looked helpless and thought of the next step.

Some relatives of those who were still on admission, who spoke with The Guardian, lamented that the strike had negatively affected them, saying they had been left at the mercy of the nurses for their medical needs.

A relative of one of the patients, who identified herself as Adejoke Adegbeyingbe, described the situation as pathetic. She appealed to the Federal Government to urgently resolve the matter so as to help the masses that could not afford to patronise private hospitals or seek medical care outside the country.

“Most of us don’t have money to go to a private hospital or travel abroad like politicians. We depend solely on government hospitals. So, the government should do everything possible to save the masses from dying,” she said.

Ajarat Amoo, a relative of another patient, who had been booked for eye surgery before the strike, said: “My father was supposed to undergo surgery and today is his appointment. Unfortunately, this strike has affected everything and his health is worsening every day. We can’t afford the fees for the surgery being charged by the private hospital. The government and doctors should come to a compromise to resolve the matter so as to help us the ordinary citizens.”

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Resident doctors in the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba; Federal Medical Hospital, Ebute Metta; National Orthopaedic Hospital (NOHL), Igbobi-Fadeyi and the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, also complied with the strike.

Stella Okorie, who brought her father from Ifo in Ogun State for medical check up at LUTH, berated both the government and the striking doctors, lamenting that their hope of seeing a doctor was dashed after a tortuous journey.

“We were told to come back whenever the strike is called off. The question is when? You can imagine the stress we went through to get here. There is nothing that works in this country except self interests,” she said.

In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, hospitals are offering skeletal services and attending mostly to emergency cases. 

A visit to some of the Federal Government hospitals in the nation’s capital showed that visit by patients has drastically reduced and local doctors and consultants were deployed to attend to patients in different wards. 

The ever-busy National Hospital, Abuja was a shadow of itself as the premises looked deserted and only a few patients were seen coming to seek medical attention. 

The Antenatal Section of the hospital seems to be the worst hit, as the daily clinic could no longer hold due to the strike. 

When The Guardian visited the section, only a few staff were seen virtually doing nothing. When one of the workers was asked why the clinic didn’t hold, her response was: “You can see that the resident doctors are on strike and there will be no antenatal clinic until they resume.” 

At the Accident and Emergency unit of the hospital, nurses were seen attending to the two patients in the ward. Aisha Sabitu, who was taking care of her sick husband at the emergency unit of the hospital, told The Guardian that though they came to the National Hospital on referral, the strike was not affecting his treatment. 

She said: “We are receiving adequate attention. We have result of all the tests they asked us to do. We are here on referral, and when we came here a week ago, they accepted us because it is an emergency case. But government should listen to the doctors and give them what they are asking for because many patients are suffering and they need doctors’ attention.”

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One of the patients at the General-Outpatient Department (GOPD) of the hospital, who is a civil servant and did not want her name mentioned, lamented that patients were going through difficult times. She said that only one consultant was attending to patients hence it was taking long hours before they could see the doctor. 

“If they were up to four, the patients will be distributed among them, but for only one doctor to be attending to 50 patients, it is not easy. So, patients have to wait for long hours before they can see the doctor. I came on Tuesday and they said there was a number of patients the doctor could attend to in a day and they would not exceed that. So I had to go back and come very early today. I am happy I fell within the number.

“We are not happy about this strike. Government should attend to the doctors’ demands so that they can come and attend to patients. There was a woman who came on a wheelchair and was groaning in pains. If doctors were on ground, they would have attended to her immediately but she stayed for a very long before she got attention,” she narrated. 

One of the nurses at the National Hospital, who spoke under condition of anonymity, decried government’s inability to find a lasting solution to the incessant strike in the health sector.

“I feel for patients because during strikes like this, they are at the receiving end. The Accident and Emergency Unit is fully functional and we work 24 hours and nurses are on standby. The hospital employed doctors on contract and these doctors are helping patients. But in the antenatal section, you can’t be registered at the moment. Imagine if a patient had been booked for surgery and is on referral, you can’t be registered and most of them don’t have money to go to private hospitals, which is the only option they have. The workload is too much on the nurses, at times we are forced to take decisions that are beyond us because you have to care for these patients to save their lives.

“What are the doctors asking for that can’t be given to them? Under this COVID-19 pandemic, we have been under intense pressure and many doctors and nurses were exposed to COVID-19. The N5000 hazard allowance is not even enough to buy a pack of hand gloves. Why should government continue to neglect the health sector and workers in the sector? This strike has ripple effects because people will lose their lives. Government should be considerate and address this incessant strike,” the nurse said. 

Assistant Director, Information and Protocol Management at the National Hospital, Rabia Mohammed Bello, said the strike was seriously affecting services, noting that the hospital was only providing skeletal services. 

At the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, nurses and a few doctors were seen offering skeletal services. One Mrs. Eleojo Hebrew, who was at the hospital with her three-year-old daughter, said they did not encounter any delay or rejection. But she urged the government to resolve the problem “because if you have been coming to this hospital before now, you will know that things are not the same.” 

Assistant Chief Nursing Officer at the hospital, Deborah Bulus, appealed to the Federal Government to urgently call the doctors to the dialogue table instead of threatening to sack them. 

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She said: “This whole situation is very bad. Like this man we are treating now, he came this morning. We didn’t to touch him but on compassionate ground, having seen that he is going through pains due to the burns on him, we decided to treat him. The workload on us now is much but don’t forget that there are medical cases that nurses cannot handle. Government should as a matter of urgency call the doctors to the dialogue table instead of threatening to sack them. This work has to do with experience. They need to resolve this problem because it has to do with human lives.” 

In Kano State, findings showed that patent medicine stores were experiencing a boom as many sick people resorted to them instead of visiting hospitals.

Some of the residents said they had no alternative than to approach the chemists to prescribe drugs for their ailments, adding that the cost was even cheaper even as the process was faster than going through the bureaucracy in government hospitals. 

Muhammad Jibrin, who came to buy drugs at a chemist shop, said he resorted patronising patent medicine stores because of affordability and proximity. 

“I am not rattled by the ongoing strike by residents doctors since I am being attended to by other medical personnel at our neighbourhood and with meager amount of money,” he said.

A patent medicine attendant at Ahmad Chemist in Darmanawa Quarters, Tarauni Local Council, SAID he was recording high customer traffic now than before the strike. 

However, investigations by The Guardian revealed that doctors were attending to patients at some government-owned medical facilities in the state.

At the Dala National Orthopedic Hospital, Kano, which receives patients from Northwest, Northeast and some neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Niger and Chad Republics, medical students on horsemanship were seen attending to patients in critical conditions.

One Andrew Odeh, who came to the hospital from Abuja, confirmed that he was attended to, adding that he even had an x-ray on one of his legs, which the doctor reviewed and recommended a surgery.

A resident, Hauwa Musa, who visited Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital to be treated for an ailment but was turned back due to the strike, said she had been taking treatment from a pharmaceutical shop.

Government-owned hospitals in Taraba State, which used to be filled with patients have been deserted as families have withdrawn their loved ones and taken them to herbal homes and private hospitals.

Nurses at the various hospitals visited by The Guardian rendered services but stated that they could not function effectively without doctors.

“How can we function effectively when there are no doctors to examine patients, diagnose and give recommendations for treatments?” queried one of the nurses, who asked not to be named.

A traditional medicine practitioner, Mallam Idrisa, admitted that patients now throng his home for treatment. “To be frank with you, the strike, to some extent, is a blessing to us.”

Pointing to one of his patients, he said: “ He has begun to recover since he was brought here last week. His sickness is not something that requires modern treatment. As you have seen, his problem is a broken hand and the only way for him to get himself back is through this traditional treatment that we are already giving him.”

It was learnt that operators of private hospitals in the state are smiling to the banks. Many of them visited had no bed space for patients.

Some nurses in some private hospitals told The Guardian that they had more patients than when doctors in government-owned hospitals were at work. One of the nurses, who identified herself as Sandra, disclosed her salary had been increased. “The only problem now is that my working hours have been increased because of the high traffic of patients coming here daily.”

In Kwara State, checks by The Guardian at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH) showed that doctors at the cadre of consultants were attending to their patients.

Besides, patients with critical cases requiring admission and urgent surgeries were not turned back. Pharmacists, nurses, laboratory scientists and other health workers were intensifying efforts to attend to the needs of patients.

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In spite of the development, the attendance of patients at the hospital has dropped by over 60 per cent. Sources attributed this to lack of adequate information on the plan for patients by the UITH management during the NARD strike.

The Chairman of the Medical Advisory Committee (CMAC) of the hospital, Dr. Louis Odeigha, said: “Admission of certain categories of patients continues here on a daily basis despite the NARD strike.”

In the same vein, the head of Corporate Affairs Unit of the hospital, Mrs. Elizabeth Ajiboye, stated: “The management has put in place robust strategies that have been keeping the hospital running without much hitches.

“As you can see, nobody is being turned back from accessing our facilities because of the strike. So, we are not shutting down at all. We are all working, especially at the clinical section, which is the operational base of the NARD members. We hope that very soon, the strike will be suspended.”

A patient, who is a soldier of the 22nd Mechanised Brigade of Nigeria Army, Sobi, Ilorin, Joseph Otaryokje said: “I have an appointment with my consultant today at 1:00pm. I came here around 10:00am and I have not seen any patient that has been turned back. The doctors are attending to all the patients here.”

The situation is, however, different in Imo State where resident doctors at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri; Imo Specialist Hospital, Umuguma and the Imo State University Teaching Hospital, Orlu, fully joined the strike.

The Guardian observed that some friends and families were withdrawing their sick ones from these hospitals and transferring them to private health facilities. However, nurses and other medical workers were seen taking care of the patients in the wards.

A nurse at the FMC, Owerri, said: “It is not easy. We are now left with the choice of doing our jobs and those of the doctors. We examine patients and administer drugs. It is a humanitarian job we are doing. We are appealing to the government to resolve this problem with the resident doctors. You cannot operate our health sector without them. Every health worker is important.”

The President of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Federal Medical Center (FMC), Birnin-Kebbi, Dr. Abdulraheem Olayinka, expressed worry over the strike, urging the Federal Government to urgently do the needful in the interest of the masses.

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He explained that although they were observing the strike, “the senior cadre doctors and consultants are doing their best to keep the hospital running and we commend their efforts.”

When The Guardian visited the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, Delta State, it was observed that about 80 per cent of the beds at the male surgical ward were empty following the evacuation of some patients admitted before the strike.

The General Out Patients Clinic (GOPC) was seen attending to a few patients while others were turned back. Some patients who were unattended to groaned in pains. 

One of the patients said she was not thinking of seeking medication at a private hospital because of the high fees charge. The patient appealed to the government to listen to the striking doctors.

The Medical Director, Dr. Victor Osiatuma, was not available for comments, but a senior management staff said: “For now, we don’t open for patients”.

According to the staff, the hospital only attends to emergency cases because “it involves human lives, but they are not admitted into the ward.”

At the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) in Cross River State, only the clinics were rendering skeletal services to a few patients when The Guardian visited.

Most of the hospital wards were empty while some had only a few patients with one or two nurses attending to them.  Although the nurses were hostile and turned patients back, one of them who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian that her ward had only one patient that had been discharged, adding that since the strike commenced, no patient had been admitted.

“As you can see, we have only one patient and she has been discharged. She is just waiting for her relatives to come for her. Since the strike, we have not had any patient and I think it’s because it is in the open that doctors are on strike; that is why they don’t border to come,” she stated.

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Some of the patients’ relatives who were seen standing outside the wards said that only nurses were attending to sick people, noting that consultants occasionally showed up.

One Mrs. Theresa Effiom said she was with her son who had a car accident a few weeks ago, lamenting that since the strike, only nurses were administering drugs to him.

Effiom said the family could not afford to take him to a private hospital or the popular Navy Hospital because of the high cost of treatment there.

“Doctors stopped coming to see my son since they started the strike. Only the nurses are attending to him. When I complained, they said he only needed to take his drugs. We cannot afford taking him to private hospital or the Navy Hospital; we can’t pay for their charges,” she stated.

Another patient’s relative, who simply gave her name as Happiness, said only one consultant who was irregular and nurses were attending to her niece, who had complications while giving birth to a baby. She urged the government to yield to the demands of the striking doctors and admonished the health workers to embrace dialogue, lamenting that “people die every day for lack health care.”

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