. . Government Reacts
By Pascal Chibueze
Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), Chukwuemeka Odumegwu University Teaching Hospital (COOUTH), Amaku-Awka Chapter, has vowed to embark on indefinite strike action from next Tuesday if the Anambra State Government fails to address their plight.
MDCAN which is agitating for salary equalization, had on July 8, 2019, suspended its warning strike as the state government constituted a committee whose mandate was to resolve the issue amicably and submit an agreed template within one month.
According to Chairman of the association, Dr Chukwudi Okani, ‘The best qualified professors and consultants at COOUTH earn salary lower than what a House Officer (a newly employed medical doctor) earns.
‘We earn 30% of what our colleagues in other states and federal teaching hospitals earn. When we embarked on strike in July, we were begged to suspend it with a promise that we would receive the new salary structure in one month.
‘But nothing is yet to be done for over three months. The committee has not submitted the template we agreed on. We will embark on an indefinite strike if at the end of Tuesday, they fail to submit it to the government and the government fails to meet up with its obligation and promises. We will meet after Tuesday and based on a collective decision, we may not guarantee industrial harmony at the end of the ultimatum,’ he said.
Okani also noted that there were many things going wrong in the teaching hospital that required urgent attention.
‘The wards are dilapidated. We don’t have enough doctors. We don’t have enough house officers. We, the consultants, over labour ourselves due to lack of enough staff to assist. Our resident doctors are leaving; those remaining are frustrated. There are no new consultants, resident doctors or house officers willing to work here,’ he said.
Contributing, the immediate past chairman of MDCAN, COOUTH Chapter, Dr Amaechi Nwachukwu, lamented over the delay by the committee to release the report, adding that the governor earlier wanted them to do that in two weeks but the committee appealed for one month and it was obliged; yet it had not been adhered to three months after.
‘We learnt that some persons are trying to scuttle their efforts through delay tactics. We don’t want the delay tactics played by the committee. We don’t want patents to die due to the greed of some people.
‘This demand is for the benefit of us all. My salary is less than a house officer’s while I have worked for over six years as a consultant. Once we commence an indefinite strike, it cannot be called off till we receive salary alert showing the new template. ‘We are not talking of new salary but that the government should pay us between 70 percent and 100 percent of the salary template our colleagues at other state teaching hospitals across the country receive.
‘We are not demanding for what the federal government is paying. We met with the committee and agreed that they should consider what is being paid to our colleagues at the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital (ESUTH). We are not insisting on 100% of that but at least between 70% or 100%. We can’t accept 30% of it anymore,’ he noted.
Reacting, the Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, said that On May 13, 2019, the Association of Resident Doctors at COOUTH, Amaku, went on a strike to press for a substantial salary increase and provision of more facilities at the hospital, noting that the strike ended following the intervention of Governor Willie Obiano; who, he said, set up a committee headed by an independent consultant to look into the demands and also to seek ways to make COOUTH a more competitive teaching hospital.
‘The committee was scheduled to hold its final meeting yesterday (Tuesday, October 29, 2019) before sending its report to the governor for consideration. Officers of the medical consultants association were informed accordingly. It is, therefore, surprising that while the meeting was about to start, the association’s officials decided to hold a press conference in Awka where they threatened to go on a one-week warning strike if their demands were not met immediately.
‘Most members of the public are convinced that the press conference was a mere attempt to stampede the committee to accept, uncritically, its demands and recommend them to the governor for immediate implementation. Neither the news conference nor the threat was necessary. Both the government and resident doctors are basically on the same page,’ Adinuba said.
He disclosed that Gov Obiano had accepted that the state of affairs at the state teaching hospital was not good enough and had directed that all doctors, and not just those doing their residency work there, who had not enjoyed any promotion in the last seven years be promoted subject to the required process.
He said the failure to promote them all these years was due to the absence of conditions of service at the hospital.
‘To rectify this error and ensure it never reoccurs, a committee of COOATH senior staff was set up to work out how it could be done and the board approved it. The governor has graciously accepted it, too. The implementation will start soon.
‘Each party accepts that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Teaching Hospital is currently being equipped in a way that will soon make it very competitive. For instance, it now hosts the biggest state-owned oxygen plant in Nigeria following Gov Obiano’s inauguration on August 8, 2019, of the N500m Anambra State Oxygen Plant, the biggest of such a facility owned by any state government in Nigeria. COOUTH also has the only Mother Child Chevron Referral Hospital in the Southeast. What is more, it has the only mega laboratory in the Southeast, meaning the lab has the capacity to take up to 500 samples of specimen simultaneously.
‘In addition, it now has CT Scan and mammography. It also now does digital X-Ray. The MRI facility is on the way. Its private ward will open in December, boosting its revenue base. Most of its middle and high income patients frequently move to private hospitals because they need privacy which is not currently available, he said, noting that the current Anambra State administration had been working hard to provide basic requirements for the medical school on account of the chequered history of COOUTH.