Patients in federal health institutions are currently passing through untold pain even as their relatives have been grumbling for the past 22 days as a result of the ongoing strike by health workers, an investigation by PREMIUM TIMES has shown.
Three weeks ago, JOHESU, an association of health workers except doctors, began an indefinite strike over the failure of the federal government to honour the agreement it had with the union last September.
While this is on, the Nigerian government seems to be in a dilemma on how to resolve the protracted issue.
Chief among what the union is asking for is salary adjustments, a demand Nigerian doctors have vehemently opposed, warning the government that acceding to such a demand would precipitate a crisis that may lead to the collapse of the health sector of the country.
Meanwhile, as the strike continues unabated, the situation is worsening for patients in critical condition, pregnant women and nursing mothers and even ordinary Nigerians in dire need of healthcare. This is because essential staff, nurses and midwives — some of the most influential members of JOHESU — have all gone on strike.
There are no official reports of fatalities yet.
But checks by this newspaper across federal health institutions in the six geopolitical zones in the country have shown that some patients have died while others suffer as essential services and healthcare delivery significantly nosedive as a result of the strike.
In Ebonyi – there has not been any official report of deaths at the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki, the state capital but some officials alleged some deaths have occured.
A personnel manager at the facility said the strike has caused deaths of patients who were rushed to the hospital on emergency but were not taken care of but were referred to other hospitals.
“In the process of taking them to the hospital they were referred to, they died even before getting there. Also the condition of many others worsened due to delays in getting them treatment because of shortage of staff occasioned by the strike,” the official who pleaded anonymity for fear of victimisation said.
A patient, who only gave her name as Mrs Nwode recounted the challenges patients face in the hospital.
According to her, in most cases after drugs were prescribed to them and bought from pharmacies outside the hospital, “there will be no nurse to inject the patients”.
The strike did not only paralyse activities at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) in Owerri, Imo State capital, but caused commotion.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that some members of the striking union penultimate week allegedly attacked some medical personnel and destroyed some vital hospital equipment leading to the death of a stillborn baby.
It was learnt that the attacked officials are the hospitals Public Relation Officer, Jacinta Achonu, and Christiana Emeto, Secretary to the Medical Director. They were rushed to the hospital.
The state police spokesperson, Andrew Enwerem (DSP) who confirmed the attack, said a member of the force on duty, Omini Ebiri, was also assaulted in the process.
He said some members of JOHESU complicit in the attacks have been arrested and have made useful statements.
But the leadership of union in the facility debunked the allegation describing it as malicious.
The University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu, is a shadow of itself as most patients have relocated to private facilities.
Sources said at least one person has died since the strike commenced.
A relative of a patient said those who cannot afford private hospitals have resorted to acting as ’emergency staff’ for their relatives.
“We dress our sick relatives wounds because there is no nurse to attend to them and doctors will only come, write drugs and go. The worst is that you cannot get the drugs in the hospital because of the strike also. You have to go to Enugu town to buy drugs. I am planning to relocate my brother from here.”
A similar situation was noticed at Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, and the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu, where only the doctors and security officials were on duty.
It was so bad that even patients who have been discharged could not be allowed to leave because there was no one to check their records to know how much balance they have to pay before they could be allowed to go.
The impact of the strike on patients seeking medical attention at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUHT), the only federal government teaching hospital in the state capital extended to even private facilities due to mass referrals which has resulted to fatalities, this newspaper learnt.
On Saturday, two patients who were rushed to the Bingham University Teaching Hospital, a Missionary owned facility died at the Intensive Care Unit ICU, officials say.
A source said facilities at the hospital are being overstretched following mass referrals from JUHT.
One of the victims brought in from Bauchi was involved in a fatal auto crash and needed urgent medical attention. He reportedly died as he was brought into the missionary teaching hospital.
The corpse of the victim was transported back to Bauchi for burial, according to sources.
The second patient, who was referred to the missionary facility died at the ICU, this paper was told by an official at the hospital who asked not to be named. She was an aged woman and her relations said she had complications from high blood pressure and stroke, he said.
Checks revealed that many patients have deserted JUTH.
The National Eye Care Centre in Kaduna was locked to patients when PREMIUM TIMES visited.
Only security guards were seen at the entrance and inside the premises.
It was gathered that since the strike started, patients on admission were asked to return home while those who visited to see doctors were turned back because there was nobody to attend to them.
Emergency cases were referred to Barau Dikko General Hospital, a state owned facility.
The Federal Neuro-Phychiatric Hospital Kaduna is another health facility crippled by the mass action.
It was learnt that skeletal services are provided to patients at both hospitals.
“There are no patients here,” a specialist at the accident and emergency ward of Lagos University Teaching Hospital replied when asked why the facility looked deserted.
“Most of them have being transferred. Every other staff: nurses, lab technicians, pharmacists and others are on strike apart from few doctors still on duty, there is little we can do for the patient.
“If an accident victim comes, we transfer them to the private emergency unit (a public private partnership establishment) and there is a limit to the patients they can attend to. That is why JOHESU strike is very effective, it denies the establishment more than 70 per cent of its work force,” he noted.
This newspaper also observed that deliveries have stopped at the facility.
PREMIUM TIMES observed a drama during a visit at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Ogun State Capital as seven patients refused to leave the wards after being referred to another hospital.
The patients, who spoke with our correspondent but did not want their names mentioned said they resolved to stay because they cannot afford to go home in view of their present health predicament.
“I can’t go when I was still bleeding from my amputated leg and doctors advised me to stay,” one of them whose leg was recently severed said.
It was also observed that all other departments and wards in the facility remained locked except the surgical and orthopaedic wards where a few patients could be seen. A few doctors were however seen doing skeletal services.
FCT – Abuja
Federal Health Institutions in the country’s capital, Abuja were not left out of the impasse.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how patients and businesses within the National Hospital Abuja and FMC Jabi were deeply hit by the crisis.
This newspaper on Wednesday also reported that the states and local governments health workers had been directed to join the strike by Wednesday, midnight.
State leaders of the union said they agreed to join the ongoing strike so as to mount maximum pressure on government to meet their demands.
No common ground has been reached in the series of meetings between the government and the striking union in a bid to resolve the crisis.