Beginning from 12 midnight on Tuesday, June 30, doctors in Ekiti State under the aegis of the National Association of Government General Medical and Dental Practitioners (NAGGMDP) withdrew their services from the public hospitals with the exception of the Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH).
The affected hospitals are the state’s 19 general hospitals, three specialist hospitals and more than 100 healthcare centres scattered across the 16 local government areas.
The medical practitioners accused the government of neglecting the health sector, acute shortage of manpower, unpaid arrears of three-month-salaries, backlog of unpaid allowances, non-implementation of agreements on hazard allowances, poor working tools, among numerous others.
In a letter addressed to the governor by the doctors’ association, a copy of which PREMIUM TIMES exclusively obtained, the government was accused of “encouraging a massive exodus of healthcare workers from the state by making the working environment hostile to them”.
The letter, which was dated May 29, and signed by the association’s chairman and secretary, Adeniyi Sunday and Adeleye Crave respectively, said “merely 65 medical officers and five consultants are working at the 22 secondary healthcare facilities”.
According to the group, between October 2019 when a comprehensive report on the state of the facilities and suggestions on the way forward was presented to Governor Kayode Fayemi, and May 29 when a 21-day ultimatum was issued to the state, 24 medical doctors including 11 consultants have left the state’s service.
The association’s letter reads in part; “Your Excellency Sir, our members feel neglected and marginalised but despite this we continue holding forte at the forefront of COVID-19 and other diseases at the state isolation centre, general hospitals, state specialist hospitals and all the primary healthcare facilities across the state. We are the same set of doctors to see the patients first even at the early stage before they are referred to the isolation and while in the isolation, our members continue to provide seamless clinical services.
“Your excellency Sir, the inability of the state government to address these issues we have raised at different fora is the main reason why all effort to employ more doctors into the health service of Ekiti State under the hospitals’ management board has repeatedly suffered a lot of setbacks.
“As recently as seven months ago before we wrote our last letter and position paper on achieving the fourth point of the four-point agenda of this government, there were 96 doctors at the hospitals’ management board including not less than 16 consultants. It is disheartening to know that as at today, the HMB is left with just five consultants and less than 67 medical officers to man our three specialist hospitals and 19 general hospitals. It will shock you to know that Ekiti East Local Government has just one doctor. Many of our general hospitals have only one doctor providing care to a whole community such as Omuo, Ilawe, And Ilupeju-Itapa, just to mention a few.”
The doctors, therefore, demanded “immediate implementation of skipping allowance with full consolidated medical salary structure (CONMESS), immediate implementation of financial benefits of promotion up to date, immediate implementation of full rural posting allowance, immediate payment of teaching allowance, and immediate implementation of regular hazard allowance”.
Other demands include “the immediate payment of special covid-19 hazard allowance as contained in the MoU between the federal government and health workers’ unions, payment of three months salary arrears, and consequential adjustment of our salary based on the new minimum wage law.”
The striking doctors have insisted that until there is clear evidence of implementation of the demands in their respective salaries, there will be no end to the ongoing strike.
According to a member of the association who does not want to be quoted for fear of sanction, the situation is worse at the primary healthcare centres, where less than 12 doctors serve more than 100 primary healthcare centres that are scattered across the towns and villages within the 16 local government areas.
“Each of the 16 local government areas has about 10 healthcare centres and none of these health centres has medical doctors working there. The about 10 doctors in service of the primary healthcare board only sit at the local government headquarters while the community health extension workers (CHEW), who are products of schools of health technologies, take charge of the healthcare centres.
“As a medical doctor who is the only one serving my general hospital I am permanently on call duty, yet my take-home isn’t up to N200,000. Most doctors working in this state are only passers-by, we take off as soon as opportunity comes.”
According to another medical officer, the last time the state recruited doctors was in 2018 during the administration of former Governor Ayodele Fayose. “17 doctors were recruited then but only six are left in the service of the state.”
Passing the buck
The spokesperson to Governor Kayode Fayemi, Yinka Oyebode, in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said he could not ‘confidently’ speak on the matter. He directed our reporter to the commissioner for information, Muyiwa Olumilua.
In a short message to our reporter, Mr Olumilua also said “he was not in a good position to comment on the issue” and referred this newspaper to the state’s commissioner for health, Mojisola Yaya-Kolade. The latter also declined comment, saying she would issue a statement through the ministry of information.
But the permanent secretary in the ministry of health, Folake Olomojobi, told this newspaper on the phone that in any society, “workers’ agitations cannot be ruled out.”
Mrs Olomojobi, a medical doctor, said there is no perfect system anywhere in the world, insisting that allegations leveled against the state “are well across the country.”
She said; “You would recall that recently, the resident doctors embarked on strike over some agitations but the government is looking critically into it,” she said. “What I can say clearly is that what we have in the existing circulars are being paid and what they are agitating for now is a new circular from the Federal Government. And what the government has said is that the establishment should look into it and see what is affordable and bring it to the table for negotiation with the doctors. That is the process we are in now.”
Speaking on the manpower shortage, the official said there are inadequacies globally, and “Ekiti State is not an exception.”
“I am not saying that we have a 100 per cent system,” she said. “And like I said earlier, inadequacy is all over the world and we are all witnesses to the exodus of doctors abroad from Nigeria. In the northern part of Nigeria, there are local governments without doctors at all. Though those statistics given by the doctors may not be exactly correct, but we have inadequacies and we are addressing it.”
She said the matter is being addressed and that “the doctors would soon return to their duty posts”.