JOHESU Strike: Absence of doctors cripple activities at Asokoro Hospital

Empty maternal care hallway at Asokoro district hospital as a result of the health workers strike

Patients at Asokoro District Hospital, Abuja have lamented the unavailability of doctors at the hospital to attend to patients especially in emergency cases even as the debilitating strike by JOHESU continues unabated.

One of the patients, Hassan Abubakar, who narrated his ordeal to PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday said he got to the hospital as early as 5.30 a.m. As at 9 a.m. when he was speaking with the reporter, he was yet to be attended to by a doctor.

He said the doctors are yet to resume.

Narrating his experience, he said there was no doctor at the accident and emergency section as at the time he got to the hospital.

“I met an emergency case here when I came, but there was no doctor around to attend to him. The person at the emergency unit kept trying to get the doctor but kept on saying he could not reach the doctor because his number was switched off. This is so bad.

“We all know the health workers are on strike and doctors are meant to be available 24 hours at the emergency unit, unfortunately this is not the case. I had to advise the relatives to take the man to a private hospital and not mind the cost since the treatment they seek at Askoro is not forthcoming,” he said.

Health activities across many secondary and tertiary health institutions have been crippled due to the ongoing health workers’ strike.

The health workers, under the Joint Health Sector Union include all health professionals at the hospitals excluding the medical doctors.

It is expected that medical doctors will be on ground to cushion the effect of the strike.

Mr Abubakar, who was eventually attended to around 10.35 am at the GOPD (General Outpatients Department) unit told PREMIUM TIMES that two doctors later came in, one around 9.15 am while the other resumed around 9.20 am.

“Only two doctors are around in the consultation rooms. There are eight consultation rooms where there should be two doctors each, unfortunately only two people are on duty as I speak. This is unfair, doctors should always be on ground in the hospital, they come in anytime they like.

“The minister health should resign if he can’t find a lasting solution to the problem in the health sector. The minister of health and FCT needs to be doing a period unannounced invitations to most of the hospitals. That is the only way they can get this hospitals running effectively,” he said.

The reporter noticed that most of the units were not fully functional.

At the family practice unit, a doctor was seen attending to some patients who said they had not spent much time at the hospital. Most of them said they came in around 10 am.

A doctor was, however, overheard telling one of the patients that treatment of patients under the National Health Insurance Scheme has been suspended until after the strike.

He said if any such patient was to be attended to, she would have to go pay N600 to register and come back with the receipt to see the doctor.

He said the pharmacy operated under the NHIS was also under lock. This the reporter also confirmed.

This implies that the woman would be buying whatever drugs prescribed instead of collection through the NHIS point which is cheaper.

The doctor in his explanation said when the strike started, they were attending to NHIS patients, but “there is now a new directive from the management that they should suspend such till after the strike”.

While observing activities at the hospital, a staffer who asked not to be mentioned told the reporter that, “things are really bad”.

“The government needs to get things going. There have been lots of cases that have been referred to other hospitals, mostly private. Most of the doctors you see around do not come in until 8.30 a.m. and by 12 p.m., most of them are gone. This is very common with the senior doctors. It is only some of the junior doctors that manage to stay around.”

He said the accident and emergency unit is not admitting patients.

He gave an example of a woman who was rushed down to the hospital by military men Tuesday but was referred elsewhere.

He said the soldiers had rescued the woman who was an accident victim and rushed her down only to be turned back.

According to him, the irate soldiers threatened to take the woman back to the point where she was rescued.

When the reporter visited the ward, only three patients were seen on the beds.

The ante-natal section was, however, active, while officials at the radiology unit said “they were only doing scan and not any other imaging which might include x-rays”.

A mother, who brought her daughter to the paediatric ward, said she spent almost one and half hours before she saw the doctor.

“It is not that they are not attending to us, but it is not the way they should. The doctors were ‘stylishly’ advising us to seek more medical care outside the government hospital because they do not know when the strike will end,” she said.

Another staffer who pleaded not to be mentioned because he is a health worker said many patients are being referred to other hospitals, mostly private.

“The doctors are using this opportunity to enrich themselves especially those that have hospitals. They now refer patients to their hospitals or those of their superiors. Go to the ante-natal section that is working, you will see fliers of various public hospitals on the doctors’ tables and some calendars of public hospitals hanged on the wall. This is not right.”

While lamenting the situation, he said “the doctors have been misleading the system, government and the public that they can function alone.”

“This strike has shown that they cannot do it alone,” he added.

“Most patients are complaining that why do they say the hospitals are open when they cannot see the doctors or consultants. Apart from the time the waste, they don’t see the consultant. At the end of the day, they get information where they can access good health services.”

Buttressing his allegations, he gave examples of three patients, one who had an ectopic pregnancy but had to seek medical attention in a private hospital “because there was nobody to do a scan on her.”

“She needed to be urgently operated to save her life. I don’t know if she survived,” he said.

He however said, “the other two women were not lucky as they died”.

“Nobody cares to follow-up what is happening. The impression doctors are giving the public is that they are working and they are comfortable with it that way. Killing the system, killing the patient, because their interest is not about the patient but about who we are and who we want to be.

“The decision maker, and there are lots of realities on ground, the government is missing. The system is not checked, most people are referred to non-standard hospitals and they are exploiting the system more,” he said.

PREMIUM TIMES’ attempt to speak with the hospital management was not successful as the reporter was told to bring a letter, “to that effect”.

One of the staff at the general administration office said, “the doctors are always on ground.”

“The emergency unit operates 24 hours and doctors are always on ground. However, if you want the management’s position, you will have to bring a letter to that effect,” she said.

The reporter noticed some of the doctors leaving the hospital around 12.30 a.m.

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