As resident doctors suspend strike: FG splashes N13.6bn on 55,031 health workers’ insurance, allowances

The federal government Sunday said it has paid N13.642, 485,146.00 billion as premium for Group Life Insurance and hazard allowance to 55,031 health workers health workers at 35 COVID-19 designated hospitals and medical centres across the country.

A breakdown of this showed the sum of N9billion was expended on insurance, while the balance of N4, 642,485billion was used to settle the hazard allowance.

This came as the striking National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) suspended the industrial action declared about a week ago.

In suspending the strike, the association said the federal government needed to look into some of its demands even as it said only eleven hospitals were captured in the hazard allowance.

At a joint press briefing in Abuja, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed, that of Health, Dr. Enahire Osagie and their Labour and Employment counterpart, Dr. Chris Ngige, said the issues raised by the association while issuing its ultimatum, had either received or were receiving full attention.

They said those issues which were before the court would have to be properly decided in line with the rule of law. 

Mohammed 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 ₦4 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 2021 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.”

Mode of payment

On how the hazard allowance was paid, the minister said: “Please note that the payment of COVID-19 Special Hazard Inducement allowances are based on 4 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 totalling N4,642,485,146.00 as of today 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.”

The minister further said the federal government stepped up its game as soon as the 14-day ultimatum was issued, and immediately opened negotiations with the NARD leadership.

The negotiations, he said, were facilitated by the health committees of the National Assembly, Speaker House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila and the labour and employment minister.  

Mohammed regretted that while government was addressing issues raised by the resident doctors, “they still opted to proceed on strike. This is happening at a time the nation is battling a pandemic of immense proportions. This inexplicable strike is a dangerous setback for the nation’s efforts at tackling the pandemic.”

Describing the nation’s health workers as  heroes who have been in the forefront of the efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the process many were infected with the virus, he said “I make bold to say that the Federal Government has done everything possible to procure PPE and make such available to our health workers.

“Of course, the fact that this is a global pandemic has affected the availability of PPEs and other requirements for fighting the pandemic. Not even the developed countries have been able to procure all that they require, such as PPEs and ventilators. But Nigeria has prioritized this and has also succeeded in procuring as many PPEs as possible for distribution to our health workers, and we now have a stockpile for emergency situation.”

Apart from making PPEs and other equipment available, the minister listed other areas to include “expansion of the testing laboratories from two to 38; training of over 13,000 health workers in Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) ; development of policy and protocols for testing returning Nigerians; development of policies and protocols for integration of primary healthcare into national response; development of stronger and sustainable policy for community engagement and risk communication; and increase in the isolation centre bed space from 3,000 to more than 5,000 nationwide.”

Mohammed said despite the many options opened 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. We hope the striking doctors will immediately reconsider their stand and end the strike today! By doing so, they will be saving many lives.”

Osagie, Ngige speak

In their separate remarks, the Health Minister, Dr. Osagie and that of Labour and Employment, Dr. Ngige spoke along same line.

Osagie said: “The world is facing an epidemic of larger magnitude never witnessed before. Matters in court should be left for another date.  While the rights of health workers should be protected as we are doing, the rights of citizens too should be respected.

“This is not a time for boycott; this is not a time for acrimony. At a time like this, all hands must be on deck as it is done in other countries. This is a bad time for a strike and i want to urge all my colleagues to wholeheartedly return to work.”

Also speaking, the labour and employment minister said: “We don’t anticipate strike in this dire moment.

He said the federal government also met with the governors who assured they would do the needful to put an end to the strike.

Strike suspended

Speaking to Blueprint in Abuja Sunday, NARD President Dr Aliyu Sokomba, said the National executive Council (NEC) decided to suspend the strike following a meeting between the association and Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) in Abuja.

He said their position would be reviewed in four weeks to ascertain whether or not government would meet its obligations as announced.

 Sokomba, who disclosed this in an exclusive interview with Blueprint in Abuja said though NARD suspended the action the government, has not met all their demands.

The NARD president further said four weeks were enough for government to implement other issues raised by the doctors.

Contrary to government’s position of paying hazard allowance to 35 hospitals, Sokomba said only 11 had so far been paid.

He said: ” The strike was suspended this morning, (Sunday) we had a meeting yesterday (Saturday) and we resolved to suspend it for 4 weeks to review our position to know if we have made significant progress or not.

“We have been told that life insurance has been procured for doctors and other healthcare workers and that it would take time for that to materialise, so we felt we should give them the benefits of time to see that materialise. 

“Secondly, we also had the demand of the medical residency training. Up till this moment, we’ve been told it has been captured in the budget and it would require the assent of the president before we would be able to access the residency funds. 

“So we believe that in the next 4 weeks, we will be able to know categorically if that is correct or not. So, considering a lot of other demands that have been initiated, talking about hazard allowance which has only been paid to only 11 hospitals and to all healthcare workers unlike what is been contained in news that it is for doctors, it has been paid to 11 hospitals and we are hoping the government would not renege and ensure it is paid to all those that deserve to be paid hazard allowance.

“So we felt that since a lot of other demands of ours hinge on factors that are not within the reach of those in charge like the signing of the budget, the implementation of the life insurance beyond the payment of the insurance to the insurance company and brokers such that we would need to give more time to listen to the actualization of this demand.”

He acknowledged the provision of PPEs in some hospitals and urged that it should be on sustainable basis.

To the governors, he said: “We await the fulfilment of the promise made by the Nigeria Governors Forum to ensure the same is done in all the states.

“On the salary shortfall for 2014-2016, the Secretary to the Government of the federation has promised to intervene.

“Government has shown a commitment to secure group life insurance for health workers. That the disengaged resident doctors at Jos University Teaching Hospital have been reinstated, the Chief Medical Director has been directed to pay their withheld salaries and comply with the provisions of the Medical Residency.

“On State Tertiary Health Institutions (STHIs), the Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum Gov. Kayode Fayemi and the Director-General Mr Asishana Okauru, appealed to be given time to discuss with other state Governors of Kogi, Gombe, Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ondo, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Enugu, Anambra, Abia and Imo for immediate pay parity with the corrected CONMESS of 2019 and that salary shortfalls due to our members will be paid shortly.”

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