DOCTORS in Lagos State-owned hospitals yesterday made good their threat to down tools in a three-day warning strike.
But alleging selfishness and sabotage, the state government yesterday said the doctors’ action was a blackmail aimed at protecting their personal investments in private hospitals which they want to force on the populace.
Special Adviser to the Governor on Information and Strategy, Mr. Lateef Raji, in an interview with newsmen, described their demands as unfounded, pointing out that it was the first state government to implement the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS), which the doctors are now complaining about.
Raji said the doctors were also demanding that House Officers on Grade Levels 10 and 12 should be paid teaching allowances, a provision which, according to him, is not part of CONMESS. He added, however, that government told them that if they could provide the evidence that it was part of CONMESS provisions, it would pay.
“The doctors, from our findings, are just bent on going on strike probably to protect personal investments in their poorly-equipped private hospitals, and that is what Lagosians should brace up for. When you complain that somebody who is on Grade Level 15, is not on step 04, that his entry point should be Grade Level 15 step 04, I mean Lagosians are wiser,” he said.
On his part, the Health Commissioner, Dr. Jide Idris, said: “The Lagos State government has a health work-force that is among the largest for any state in the federation. A significant proportion of the state’s budget is expended on health and health-related issues every year, including the urgent need to upgrade infrastructure at all levels.
“In-house and out-of-station training and retraining programmes are encouraged both for task-related and self-improvement purposes. Continuing Medical Education is encouraged and funded in all its aspects. International partnerships are also being explored and used as vehicles for sending workers to acquire new skills and international exposure.
“Despite its limited resources and liberty to fix the wages of its members of staff at levels that it can afford within its resources, the state has made every effort to maintain a reasonable level of parity for its medical doctors with their peers in other parts of the federation, including those employed by the Federal Government.
“A number of additional welfare benefits have been made available to the health work-force in Lagos. These include the provision of personalised official cars for heads of clinical departments and some other senior officers, most of whom are doctors, provision of official quarters for many members of staff, and provision of government land with generous rebate.”
Idris said chief medical directors have been directed to attend to emergency while government has concluded arrangement to appoint interim doctors, volunteers to take over the vacant positions of the striking doctors.
He urged residents in the state to visit private hospitals while advertisements would soon be placed in the media for the appointment of interim doctors while the government would also explore all other avenues for dialogue.
Idris said the union had failed to explore all avenues to resolve the issues. He emphasised that a notice of strike by the union was brought to his office on Tuesday, a day before the strike, which he said negated all Labour laws that stipulate 15 days notice
While services were skeletal at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, General Hospital (GH) Gbagada and General Hospital, Isolo, among others, fears are that the plight of patients might worsen as the industrial action enters the second day.
When The Guardian visited the hospitals yesterday, consultants and nurses were attending to some cases, including emergencies.
Chairman of the Medical Guild, Dr. Olumuyiwa Odusote at a congress held yesterday, urged his colleagues to give in-house patients that are in unstable condition referral letters to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) for further care.
The congress was held at a car park, following an alleged closure of the venue by the Lagos State government.
The doctors under the aegis of Medical Guild are on three-day warning strike in protest of non-implementation of agreed Consolidated Salary Scale (CONMESS) by the Lagos State Government.
Odusote said their consensus at the congress was to go on with the warning strike till 8.00 a.m. on Saturday, and start an indefinite strike at the end of the month if the state government failed to implement the CONMESS agreement and reverse excessive taxation levied on the doctors.
Chairman, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) LASUTH, Dr. Saheed Babajide, said that the warning strike was unavoidable because they have waited for the implementation of CONMESS for 13 months.
“We are going on warning strike just because of the patients. We have declared this warning strike about a week ago to give the government an ample time to re-think and do the right thing. We also appealed to the people to talk to the government, knowing that an indefinite strike action will be so unfortunate on the patients.”
He said that though they have had a meeting with the government, with promises made again, “but the next thing we saw was their coming to lock up the venue of our congress.”