The Lagos doctors strike action has lingered through the months of September-October 2010 and has expectedly led to a functionless and dangerous situation in all the government-owned hospitals in the state. The doctors had embarked on the strike action after the Governor Raji Fashola-led government failed to accede to their demands for an improved welfare package via the implementation of the new national CONMESS salary award for doctors, review of the highly excessive income tax – the hallmark of the present Lagos government, and the reinstatement of the former chairman of the Medical Guild, who was sacked last year for agitating for the rights of doctors for better deal. Published below is an extract from a contribution of one of the striking doctors, Dr Olayinka M.A, featured in THISDAY newspapers, Friday 8/10/2010 edition.

“The state of the health sector in Lagos state is one that gives great concern. It is appalling how the government of Lagos state deals with the issues that affect the lives of Lagosians. It is a pity that the government of a state like Lagos state that prides itself as first in everything now finds it convenient to take the back seat when it comes to the welfare of its health personnel even while the government prides itself with some free programmes in the health sector which these set of people were highly instrumental to it done.

“While there have been some infrastructural development in the health sector, executed via multibillion naira contract awards in some of the hospitals in the last few year, it is however important that the policy trust of the government finds a healthy balance between infrastructural development and appropriate welfare package of its workforce. Healthcare is a very delicate field and it is a field in which there is great dependence on the expertise of the service providers. Even if you put all the machines in the world into all our hospitals and you do not have capable hands to run them, then patients would still die and this would amount to a complete waste of government spending.

“It is also pertinent to note that health as defined by the Alma Ata Declaration is not just the absence of infirmity but a state of complete physical, mental and social well being. We would therefore expect that the state of health of a caregiver should also satisfy this criterion if the output of such services is anything to rely upon.

“The Lagos State Government finds it difficult to implement the CONMESS circular even when such salary package craves to put an end to the internal brain drain crisis of which Lagos State has been at the loosing end. The Lagos State Health Service Commission recruits doctors and other health workers almost on a monthly basis. Even at that the entire staff strength rather than increasing has continued to decline because more people keep leaving the system for federal and foreign jobs on a daily basis. This has continued to increase the work burden on the remaining service providers and further worsens the trend.

“Accordingly, CONMESS, the new salary scale approved National Wage Commission for doctors, will go a long way for now to solve the problem of internal brain drain in the Lagos state health sector, yet the government still finds it convenient to hide behind some unworthy excuses such as: “it is a federal circular”, “the federal government cannot dictate the salaries that the Lagos state government would pay its workers” etc.

“On the other hand, the government however finds it convenient to pay all its political office holders, and thousands they are, via a ‘federal circular’. The Lagos state government also implements a tax which is stipulated by the federal government to deduct from salaries of her workers that has been refused the benefit of earning a salary that is stated in a federal ‘circular’.” This is not withstanding the fact that a number of state governments in the federation has given effect to the CONMESS circular.

“It is also sad to note that the government’s reaction to the strike by the Lagos state doctors is anything but proactive. After failing to take necessary steps to prevent the strike, the government has also not responded appropriately to the situation at hand. The moves by the government, taking the doctors to court, issuing threats of sack and planned employment of new doctors has only make the matter worse. All these anti-workers, fascist-like methods, had really worsened the crisis as the doctors have refused to be cowed.

“Another important consideration to the crisis is that the Lagos state government is seen to have a consistent anti-labour posture. For examples, a former leader of the Lagos NLC, Ayodele Akele was sacked nine years ago after leading a strike to demand for the implementation of minimum wage for Lagos workers and in the same vein, the former chairman of the Medical Guild, Dr Ibrahim Olaifa, was also sacked for granting a press interview in his capacity as the chairman of the association, during a strike to ask for the implementation of a better pay package for Lagos doctors. The aspect of victimization of leaders of unions while representing the interest of the people is rather untoward in a democratic dispensation.”

We demand the following:

• The government should immediately give a commitment to implement the new salary for doctors and health workers

• The sack of the former chairman of the association should be reversed immediately

• There should be no forms of victimization of any doctor for participating in the strike

• The government should allow the doctors’ association and the other health workers union to play a vital role in policy issues in the health sector

• Government should learn to respond appropriately to challenges in the health sector and not wait till the last minute when things are already beyond control.