The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, has vowed to terminate training of medical students at the Abia State University Teaching Hospital, ABSUTH, located in Aba over endless crisis.
The first vice-president of NARD, Dr Aromo Adejo, made the disclosure in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Aba on Sunday.
He cited various reasons for the association’s decision to resort to termination of medical training at the institution, saying that the hospital had been bedeviled with protracted crisis for years.
Mr Adejo said that the association would communicate with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN, and the National Universities Commission, NUC in a matter of days to stop training of medical students in ABSUTH forthwith.
According to him, the move is to save the lives of Nigerians and ensure that the facility does not train half-baked medical doctors to attend to the populace.
“We are writing to MDCN and NUC for the withdrawal of the accreditation of ABSUTH, we are going to write them within the next one week.
“We are to tell them that we in NARD don’t believe that doctors are being trained in that school and that they should go and close the school down.
“We are writing them because if doctors are always on strike in that school, who is training its medical students?
“It is a disgrace and a thing of shame that our elected political office holders do not take the health of the people they swore to serve seriously.
“We know they fly abroad or to Abuja or Lagos for better medicare when they are sick but the poor people in Abia State, who pay taxes with which government officials fly abroad, are not taken seriously on health matters.
“The issue with ABSUTH is a protracted one. At this time, we cannot but tell our members there to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
“In fact, as far as we are concerned, if they have their way, they should leave its employment right away since the government does not care about the healthcare of its citizens.”
The NARD official said that the Abia government was not in a frame of mind to pay workers over 19 months salary arrears owed them, noting that the workers were still being under-paid with a 2009 salary scheme, while refusing to upgrade to current salary scheme.
Mr Adejo said that the national body of NARD had directed its ABSUTH chapter to remain on strike and never to engage in dialogue with the Abia government until the workers got all their entitlements.
He said the decision was taken because the government had been playing on the intelligence of ABSUTH workers, who the government engaged regularly with promises to pay but never redeemed such promises.
“We have written to the government through the Abia State chapter because we see what they write before the letters are sent and we give them the go-ahead.
“We have been communicating with the Abia government for long and the governor earlier this year met our delegation sent to the state at the risk of kidnapping but all he did was to give them one million naira as transport fare.
“But the people in the delegation rejected it and asked him to take it, add money to it and pay our members so they can work and treat sick patients,” Mr Adejo revealed.
When contacted, the Commissioner for Health in Abia, Dr Jonathan Osuji, said he was not aware that resident doctors in ABSUTH were on strike, noting that work was going on at the hospital.
“That kind of thing they are doing, where does it work. It’s just that the government is taking everything like that.
“You don’t just run your own practice at the expense of government’s time and you want government to pay you,” he said.
The President of the ABSUTH Chapter of NARD, Dr Nnamdi Erondu, however, confirmed in an interview with NAN that the body had been on strike since April 1 this year.
Mr Erondu said that the abandonment of ABSUTH was frustrating and that the development had resulted to some doctors taking up private practices while still in government employment.
“I don’t have or work in a private hospital. They caused what is happening in ABSUTH. When they are seeking accreditation, the management of the hospital borrows equipment and returns them after.
“ABSUTH, a teaching hospital does not even have CT Scan. We send patients outside for examinations requiring CT scan and if we send them outside and they see better facilities, they don’t return to us.”
Mr Erondu said that endless strikes and poor working conditions had kept workers away from the hospital, making patients to abandon the hospital to seek better services elsewhere.
However, in response to the dire situation in ABSUTH, the 2003 class in a letter dated July 7, 2021 and addressed to ABSUTH alumni association, called for assistance from former students to save the medical school from closing down.
The letter sighted by NAN was entitled: “Risk of Extinction of Our Dear ABSU Medical School: A Call for Urgent Action by Our Global Alumni”.
In the letter, signed by the Class Coordinator, Dr Ikechukwu Ogbonna, and Secretary, Dr Ada Otuonye-Anaba, the former students said that their biannual meeting held on July 4, 2021 discussed the school’s “sorry state”.
The class said the school was “facing myriads of challenges, including a lack of manpower and exodus of already existing ones” hence the need for the intervention of its distinguished alumni members.
The Chief Medical Director of ABSUTH, Dr Shedrack Offiah, said he would not respond to what NARD wanted to do in ABSUTH because the body had refused to work with him.
He said that when NARD visited Mr Ikpeazu, he, Mr Offiah, sent delegates to support the dialogue between the parties but that NARD sent them away, stressing that he would not speak on the plans of NARD to avoid making mistakes.
He said he inherited 16 months salary arrears, pointing out that a large chunk of the arrears had been paid with two months of the arrears yet to be paid.
Mr Offiah said the resident doctors had remained on strike after he had paid them three months salary for months they did not work.
“We have paid them three months and we are taking records. From the next salary, anybody that does not come to work will not be paid. We will only pay the people who come to work.
“There is nothing that is happening here that other teaching hospitals are not going through. Even myself, I’m also being owed but we have to sacrifice something to make the school what it should be,” he said.
NAN reports that ABSUTH workers have been noted for embarking on frequent strikes, resulting from an apparent inability of the government to pay them salaries as and when due.
The institution has a troubled environment which is restricting its operations and expansion, a source in the hospital told NAN.
The source, who pleaded anonymity, said that former Gov. Orji Uzor-Kalu allowed land-grabbers to encroach on some land portions belonging to the hospital.
He said that encroachment on the hospital’s land had persisted till date, limiting expansion in the hospital for needed services.
“There is no more space to erect buildings that will house the schools departments in the event of expansion which should worry the government of Mr Okezie Ikpeazu,” the source said.
NAN learnt that although NARD officials are scheduled to visit Abia for a meeting this week, workers are doubting if the Abia government can keep to its earlier promise to pay the outstanding arrears of salaries.