The Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, has described the intended Doctors strike as ill-timed, ill-considered and a clear negation of the Hippocratic Oath to which the doctors subscribe.
Information and Culture Minister made the position of the Federal Government known on Sunday at a joint news briefing in Abuja with Health Minister Dr. Osagie Ehanire and Labour and Productivity Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige.
The Minister further announced that the sum of N13.642 billion has been released to pay hazard allowances and group life insurance of health workers and federal civil servants.
The announcement came on a day the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) said it was suspending its one-week-old strike for four weeks to give the government more time to meet its demands.
On why the government opted for negotiation with the doctors and other health workers, Mohammed said it was done in the overall interest of Nigerians,
He said: “Many options are open to the Federal Government in tackling the strike, yet it has chosen negotiation over confrontation, as you can see in the efforts we have made so far. The government has bent over backwards to meet the demands of the striking doctors.”
“We must express the government’s consternation that resident doctors will choose a time like this, when we are battling a pandemic, to embark on a strike. This negates what obtains in other parts of the world, where health workers are rallying around their governments to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Nigeria must be among, if not the only nation, where doctors – who are classified as essential workers – have opted for a strike during a public health emergency.”
“Currently, only essential and skeletal service is being rendered in the nation’s public hospitals. There is no doubt that the strike has impacted negatively on public health, putting many lives – including those of their members – at risk.”
“This is not right and it clearly negatives the Hippocratic Oath to which the doctors subscribe. While the Federal Government continues to engage the resident doctors in negotiation, we want to use this opportunity to appeal to them to respect their oath and put life above other considerations. This is an ill-timed and ill-considered strike.”
The Information and Culture Minister further stated that the issues raised by the Association, while issuing its ultimatum on June 1st have are being catered for.
He said: “Personal Protective Equipment (or PPE) have been supplied to all state and federal tertiary hospitals and funds for the same have been provided in the revised 2020 budget.”
“Implementation of the Residency Training programme was backed by the National Assembly, which provided N4 billion in the revised 2020 Budget, while the ministry of Health is working with the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) to build a template to assure same in the personnel cost of next year’s budget.
“We have also paid N9 billion as premium for Group Life Insurance to all our health workers and N4,642,485,146.00 as Special Hazard Allowance to health workers as already acknowledged in at least 35 hospitals.
“Please note that the payment of COVID-19 Special Hazard Inducement allowances are based on the following four templates:
50% of consolidated basic salary to all workers in Covid-19 designated Hospitals and centres
40% of consolidated basic salary to health workers in Non-COVID-19 designated centres and Hospitals
10% of consolidated basic salary to Non-Health Professionals engaged in those centres
20% of consolidated basic salary special allowance to all health workers directly managing COVID-19 patients in treatment and isolation centres
“In summary, a total of 55,031 health workers in 35 COVID-19 designated hospitals and medical centres have been paid special hazard allowance totaling N4, 642,485,146.00 as of today (yesterday) and more payments are being processed.
“Other matters relating to non-payment of arrears dating as far back as 2014 or salaries owed by state governments, are either in court, or beyond the power of the Federal Ministry of Health to resolve.”
On his part Dr. Ngige noted that the N9 billion released for Group Life Insurance is not only for health workers, as it will cover all Federal Civil servants.
Dr. Ngige said: “The Pension Commission (PENCOM) Act makes provision for Group Life insurance for all workers in the Federal Public Service. Even federal civil servants within that frame, their families can make claim once there is fatality.”
“But the health workers in the frontline are covered, they also have covers for extra toplife insurance from the Presidential Task Force (PTF) from the donations given to PTF by some insurance companies and other benefits in the Compensation Act.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Ehanire also pleaded with doctors to put the nations above personal interest, assuring that all health workers will be protected during the pandemic.