The Ministry of Labour and Employment has advised the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, to stop dissipating energy, interpreting the comments made by Minister Senator Chris Ngige in a recent television interview and squarely face the challenge of helping to stem the series of industrial action by the junior doctors in the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD)
A statement by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations of the ministry, Charles Akpan in Abuja, Monday, said “instead of dissipating energy on interpreting the comments of the Minister which at best could be regarded as an obiter, the NMA should sit up and address the challenge of series of the illegal strike which junior doctors in NARD have been embarking on, especially the current one that started on April 1, 2021, with the connivance and tacit support of the NMA.
Senator Ngige had in an answer at a recent television interview made reference to the service package for residency training of doctors in the United States and the United Kingdom in relation to Nigeria
“Nothing can be further from the truth than the interpretations and imputations given to his comment in the press especially the recent press statement by the NMA.
“To be accurate, in a question and answer session in a television interview programme regarding the ongoing strike by the National Association Resident Doctors (NARD) the interviewer sought to know Federal Government’s efforts towards promoting medical personnel training, better pay, medical services in order to stop the brain drain of doctors to greener pastures.
“The minister answered that nobody (no government) pays anything to resident doctors rather resident doctors pay something to train themselves. He also said that the Nigerian government pays salaries and some aspect of the training of resident doctors such as books, exam fees among others.
“What the Minister meant was that governments all over the world do not involve themselves directly in paying for residency training and hence do not pay anything. Figurative use of the word “nobody” means no government as per the interviewer’s question which referenced the role of government.
“This should therefore not be mischievously misapplied to mean that resident doctors in other climes are not paid remunerations by their employers. Every employee gets remuneration in labour.
“They are paid by their employers who are the hospitals with whom they have entered into a contract for various terms but those employers do not pay for things like examination fees, books, accommodation etc. They stop at salaries and allowances.
According to the Minister, the NMA assertion that all residents pay all these other expenditures for themselves in Nigeria is neither here nor there.
“ I will advise NMA to dig further before such public statements are made because from the vintage position as former Deputy Director Hospital Services and Training Department of the Federal Ministry of Health, overseeing medical training, including a residency in the 90s, being a member of the 7th Senate and a prominent member of the Senate Health Committee 2011-2015 and lately, a member of the Federal Executive Council of Ministers that recently passed and implemented the Residency Training Fund (RTF) for resident doctors welfare.
“The minister that arbitrated on the last strike on August -September 2020, I wish to advise the NMA to let the sleeping dog lie but go and dig further into what residents get from their state government sponsors and even from the Federal government, for those of them on a federal government training scheme.
“ For the records, two of the major issues raised by NARD members for starting the strike are the new central placement of newly qualified medical graduates in federal tertiary health institutions as House officers by the Medical and Dental Council Of Nigeria, MDCN through a federalized system and the introduction of new hazard allowance for all categories of health workers.
“Recall that a special Covid-19 allowance of N32b was paid in 2020 to all health workers in all federal government tertiary institutions, including all the doctors in federal government’s secondary institutions.
“The central placement of House officers was approved by the FEC for all would-be intern in federal tertiary institutions to enable these graduates not roam the streets for up to twelve months, waiting for spaces for horsemanship. This was meant to curb favouritism and corruption associated with their recruitment in different centres, hence the last Executive committee of the NMA was informed of the decision and they fully supported it.
“This same centralized recruitment was meant for other health professionals but medical graduates were chosen for the pilot which was to start in in 2020 covid-19 pandemic. However, January 2021 was chosen as the commencement of recruitment from the federal teaching hospitals and medical centres.
“NMA was aware of this arrangement and made no effort to liaise with the Federal Ministry of Health, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and the committee of Chief Medical Directors to ensure a smooth transition and migration of house officers at the tail end of their training programmes into the IPPIS platform for the uninterrupted continuation of their emoluments, salaries and allowances.
“ This abdication of responsibility resulted in the present chaotic situation which made some Chief Medical Directors go ahead and conduct recruitment of new house officers on their own in violation of circular which prohibits same. They claimed they did this to maintain their manpower need to save lives.
“Secondly NARD was also kept in the dark by the NMA leadership that the at the request of the president of the NMA, the Minister of Labour and Employment had received in audience and held a technical session with the NMA Remuneration Committee led by Dr Orhue on the issue of hazard allowance – from N5000 to a new rate based on CONMES salary structure.
“The Hon. Minister of Labour had also advised the committee to send in their proposal through the Federal Ministry of health, their employers, and up to date, no such proposal has reached the desk of the Hon. Minister. The Minister equally gave the audience to two professional groups in the health sector and advised the same.
“The Minister as the co-chair of the Presidential Committee on Salaries and Wages held a similar meeting with two other health professional groups at their request and also advised them, in the same way, to send in their proposal through the Fed. Ministry of Health. We are not sure the Ministry of Health received this proposal till now.
The Minister further said the House officers are not members of NARD since they are medical doctors with a provisional license, hence members of NMA which is the professional umbrella for all doctors.
“The abdication of responsibility for protecting the baby doctors by the NMA is nothing but a grave display of lack of leadership, indeed leadership failure. Playing the ostrich and hiring militant NARD to lead the way in what should be a smooth display of administrative craftmanship.
Ngige added that the invocation of a national strike by NARD over an issue that could be handled by the NMA does not help the nation.
“ I am aware that the NMA President had complained he does not get the expected cooperation, even audience with the two Health Ministers and their officials, but that is one of the challenges faced by people in leadership, a situation that has made my ministry to play proactive roles to prevent the strike not only in the health sector but in education and others.
“But the NMA President is reminded that he cannot effectively pilot the big job of the presidency of the Nigerian Medical Association from his new seat as the Vice-chancellor of the new Federal University of Medical Science, Oturkpo Benue State.”