LAGOS — THE Lagos State government, yesterday, explained the rationale behind the sacking of 788 doctors under its employment, saying the decision was not a palatable one for the government even as it said the government had not foreclosed the issue of negotiation.
Fielding questions from journalists during the state Ministry of Health annual ministerial briefing to mark the first year of Governor Babatunde Fashola’s second term in office in Lagos, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, justified the action of the government.
According to him, “the bottom line is that you have people who entered the civil service under specific rules and regulations. The state government reserves the right to evolve policies for all civil services but once you allow people to behave the way they like, there will be chaos and disaster.”
Idris who acknowledged that the sack was not an end to strike in the health sector, added that everybody had the right to strike while the government also had the right to sack.
Newly recruited doctors being deployed
He said: “What we are addressing now is the emergency services. We have the responsibility of providing healthcare and that is our priority now. The hospitals are not totally paralysed as some doctors are still working. We still have over 1,000 doctors in service including the new ones.
As at yesterday, the new doctors had their orientation and are currently being deployed to the various hospitals. We have plans to recruit more as a good number of doctors from other states have signified interest to work with us.
“We do not know any other state that pays as much as we are doing right now. This government has bent over backward. That is why the government was forced to publish what they are being paid.
“If you look at all their grievances, the first one, they demanded that the house officers and medical officers on Grade Level 12 must be paid teaching allowance. As at the point of discussion, we did not say we will not pay. But a circular provided by salaries and wages commission, Abuja to the minister, specified the category of health workers that are entitled to teaching allowance.
“In that document, the house officers and those medical officers were not entitled to teaching allowance and that is where the state says, we cannot pay teaching allowance to those who do not teach because we are not doing the same thing for nurses, pharmacists and other health workers.
“Another area is that, they said there was dichotomy, we agreed that we are going to address it. We have started correcting them. As a matter of fact, this would have been corrected in their April salary. The other issue is that, any new consultant that we are employing must be placed from Grade Level 15 and we said no because under the state civil service policy, all these were taken into consideration and we started at Grade Level 3 step one.”
There is still room for negotiation
Reacting to the issue of sacking the doctors even before dialoguing with them last Saturday, the state Commissioner for Health said they were at the meeting to show people that there was always room for negotiation, adding: “But to our dismay the doctors came and insulted members of the panel. It is not by force to work for Lagos State.”
Idris, however, disclosed that the issue of negotiation had not been foreclosed, adding that they did what they did to restore services, particularly, the emergency departments of the various hospitals as part of their social responsibility to the people.
We will not be distracted by NMA’s threat
On the threat by the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, to shutdown services, the commissioner, who dismissed the threat, said: “We will not be distracted by an association because the same NMA has been in Lagos since this started. Who then is after the interest of the patients?”
Idris accused the NMA of peddling false information on authorities that they did not have. He said: “NMA does not grant medical licence. The Medical and Dental Council does that. They just want to instil fear into the new doctors. NMA should be an association of professional doctors not one that impedes healthcare services. Discipline must be maintained in service because once that is compromised, there will be chaos.”
For once we must call their bluff
Corroborating his views, the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Aderemi Ibirogba, who argued that the government overlooked the fact that the doctors did not follow the labour laws, said the decision of the government was in the interest of the patients.
He wondered why people who are trained to save lives now decided to kill the lives they were trained to save, adding: “In spite of all our pleas, the doctors remained adamant.”
Ibirogba who said there was no regret for the government action said: “For once we must call their bluff. Are they more professional than engineers or lawyers? If you continue to pamper these ones, then the other professionals will say they want the same treatment.”
The sack is totally unacceptable — NMA
In his reaction, the newly elected National President of the Nigeria Medical Association, and a Consultant Family Physician, Dr. Osahon Enabulele said: “Our position is that the sack is totally unacceptable. It is an in indication of the fact that government did not listen to the voice of reasoning.
The earlier we revert to dialogue and drive mission of development in the healthcare, the better for all. The sack order by government is not in the interest of the people of Lagos, the state government and the governor. It is necessary for the government to have a rethink to go back to negotiation table. It is unfortunate that things degenerated to this extent.
All parties must find a palpable solution —AGPMPN
Also reacting, the National President, Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria, AGPMPN, Dr. Anthony Omolala said: “I am disturbed by the happenings in the health sector. My initial reaction is that all parties must find a platform for eventual resolution. The employer/employee relationship is now sour. The employer/employee must at this juncture find a palpable solution. Life is involved and nobody has the ability to give one.
Give constructive dialogue a chance — PSN
Reaction, National President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, Mr Azubuike Okwor said: “As a body, we are compelled to call on the Lagos State government and the leadership of striking doctors in Lagos State to give constructive dialogue a chance in the reality of the recent face-off between the contending parties in the last few days.
In Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, we are conscious of our leadership responsibilities in healthcare. Therefore we encourage both parties in this industrial dispute to reckon that leadership has fundamental traits including care, compassion and kindness to follower ship at its bosom.
I have lost many of my good doctors — LASUTH CMD
Chief Medical Director, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Prof David Oke, said this sack, at least in my hospital, means that I have lost a lot of my doctors. It means that we have lost many of our good hands. It’s going to affect services and it means that to an extent it is going to affect the teaching of residents and students in the medical school.
But we are putting up contingency plans, such as making a list of consultants/lecturers who were affected by the sack.
JAF condemns sack
In another development, the Joint Action Front, JAF, has condemned sack, saying it was “unlawful and unwholesome.”
The group made this known in a statement by its Chairperson and Secretary, Dr. Oladipo Fashina and Mr. Abiodun Aremu, in Lagos, yesterday.
According to the group, the Lagos State government should be held responsible and liable for the death of Lagosians arising from its refusal to meet the demands of doctors and its disregards for the right of doctors to strike.
It said: “The action of the state government constitutes a grave violation of labour laws and international conventions on the freedom of association. The sack of doctors clearly contravenes the decisions and principle of freedom of association committee of the governing body of the International Labour Organisation.
“The dismissal of workers because of a strike constitutes serious discrimination in employment on grounds of legitimate trade union activities and is contrary to Convention 98.”