Chukwu: FG Did Not Sack Doctors
The Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, has said the federal government never ordered the sacking of 16,000 resident doctors working in federal hospitals across the country.
Briefing State House correspondents yesterday in Abuja after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, Chukwu said there was no basis for the government to sack people who had not been working in the last two months.
“People that have not been at their duty posts for nearly two months cannot cry for being sacked,” he said.
However, his statement contradicted an August 13 letter signed by his permanent secretary, Mr. L. Awute, conveying the directive of President Goodluck Jonathan that all resident doctors at federal hospitals should be sacked.
The minister explained that the directive suspending the residency programme at all federal hospitals was carried out to eliminate distractions at a time it is contending with the outbreak of the Ebola virus, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported yesterday.
This had become necessary, he said, because the affected doctors were unhelpful in the war against the Ebola disease, adding that the government was still paying the salaries of the striking doctors.
Chukwu said the government would engage the doctors in talks only when they returned to work, adding that there was no avenue for such talks at the moment.
In a related development, the federal government said yesterday that it had suspended further negotiations with the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) on the doctors strike until the Presidential Committee of Experts on Inter-Professional Relationships in the Public Health Sector finishes its work.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, stated this yesterday while receiving members of the committee in his office in Abuja.
Anyim made it clear that the decision of the federal government would be hinged on the outcome of the committee’s report.
“I want to tell you that we have had difficulties on what to do until we see the report of this committee. Let me say that the challenges government faced in the health sector is so monumental and that is why the government deems it fit to seek your help to solve these challenges,” he said.
“We have decided that we will not reopen negotiations until we see the work of this committee. We want to say that your committee has been painstaking in doing its work and we believe that at the end, this committee will come up with a very comprehensive report acceptable to all,” he added.
The SGF also disclosed that the president had directed that no new doctors should be employed by federal hospitals and no residency doctor training should be allowed until all the relevant issues are resolved.
Anyim commended the commitment, professionalism and members of the committee, expressing hope that their work, which he revealed was at an advanced stage, would be ready in few weeks time.
Despite the government’s position, the National President of NMA, Dr. Kayode Obembe, yesterday expressed optimism that the strike would soon be called off.
Obembe stated this after he led members of the NMA executive to hold a marathon meeting with the Senate President, David Mark from the late hours of Tuesday to the early hours of yesterday in Abuja.
The meeting, according to a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President, Mr. Paul Mumeh, was also attended by the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan; Senator Tunde Ogbeha; and Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe.
The statement explained that Obembe said he would not give the exact date and time that the strike would be called off until he reports back to his members.
He was however quoted to have described the meeting with the senate president as “very useful and successful”.
Obembe described as incorrect “the notion in some quarters that the striking doctors abandoned the nation at a time it is battling the Ebola Virus Disease”.
He clarified that there was never a time the NMA refused to respond to the national emergency, “we have been alive to our duties as professionals and to our father land”.
The NMA president said: “Doctors were not unmindful of the health challenges faced by the nation at the moment, but needed government to correct some anormalies in the health sector to make it more effective and responsive to the healthcare needs of the citizens.”
He pledged to convene a stakeholders' meeting very soon as part of the process to end the strike.
The statement added that Mark, during the meeting, reminded the doctors of the implications of the strike on the health of the citizens if they continue.
He said there were indications that government complied with a reasonable number of their demands.
Mark then pleaded with them to return to work, just as he promised to table their grievances before the president, with a view to resolving them.
Obembe also promised to brief his members before the final decision to call off the action could be taken.