By JOAN NWAGWU
Striking resident doctors and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal Government on the industrial action that began on Wednesday.
Operating on the platform of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), the striking doctors embarked on the five-day warning strike to press their demand for improved conditions of service.
Spokesman of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr Olajide Oshundun, stated on Saturday in Abuja that the MoU was signed at the office of the minister, Mr Chris Ngige, on Friday.
He stated also that the meeting of Friday directed officials of the NARD to present the outcome to members of the association in an emergency meeting to be held within 48 hours.
“This is with a view to suspending the strike,’’ he stated.
The striking doctors had said on Wednesday that the move was to call government’s attention to the need to end brain drain in the health sector and improve the welfare of members of NARD.
They are also demanding an immediate increment in the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure to the tune of 200 per cent of current gross salaries of doctors.
NARD is also demanding the immediate withdrawal of the Bill seeking to compel medical and dental graduates to serve compulsorily in Nigeria for five years before getting full licences to practise.
It also wants immediate domestication of the Medical Residency Training Act and a review of Hazard Allowance by state governments.
The striking doctors also want a review of the Consolidated Medical Salaries Structure which was last reviewed in 2009 and the payment of unpaid salary arrears for 2014 to 2016.
They also want a consequential adjustment of minimum wage arrears that is yet to be paid when the new minimum wage was implemented among other issues.
According to Oshundun, in the MoU reached on Friday, Ngige said parties agreed that health is in the Residual List and not on the Concurrent List of the Constitution.
Consequently, the Federal Government cannot compel state governments to effect payment of salaries and allowances in the health sector.
He stated that the NMA and NARD were advised to embrace more persuasion and social dialogue at the state level.
Ngige said the Federal Ministry of Health had taken the matter of perennial non-payment of salaries to Abia doctors to the National Council on Health.
He added that the council had asked the state government to pay the doctors who had been on strike for several months for robust health delivery to the people.
He argued that the Federal Government could also not compel state governments to domesticate the Medical Residency Training Act and pay the same salaries as paid by the Federal Government.
“The ministry advised NARD to reach out to states that are not paying and negotiate with them, even if the rates are lower than that of the Federal Government.
“The meeting also discussed the bill on bonding of doctors for five years before licensing, sponsored by Rep. Ganiyu Johnson (APC-Lagos State).
“It was agreed that the Executive arm of government could not interfere with it being a private member’s bill and not an Executive bill.
“The meeting resolved to await the public hearing on the bill, where the doctors will deal with it through the NMA to ensure it does not see the light of day,’’ Oshundun stated.
The meeting noted that the recommendations of the Federal Ministry of Health’s Brain Drain Committee on exited doctors had been forwarded to the Office of Head of Service of the Federation (OHSF) for further action.
Ngige said the OHSF was directed to engage all stakeholders on the matter by May 24 to ensure the approval of the implementation plan on or before June 5.
The plan, he added would be transmitted to teaching hospitals and Federal Medical Centres for implementation.
Ngige also said that the meeting agreed that fund for the payment of the 2023 Medical Residency Training Fund had been taken care of in the 2023 budget.
He added that payment would begin when the operation of the budget begins.
He noted that the budget office had requested for a comprehensive list of all resident doctors in federal tertiary health institutions from the Federal Ministry of Health.
He added that the Post Graduate Medical College of Nigeria had sent the list through the Federal Ministry of Health for payment to begin as soon as funds are released.
The meeting resolved that that NARD should re-present the list of doctors omitted in the payment of Minimum Wage Consequential Adjustment to the ministry on May 22.
The list should have annexes of the old submission and same copied to the office of the Minister of Labour and Employment.
Top officials of Federal government agencies in the health sector and those in relevant agencies signed the MoU on the part of government.
President of NMA, Dr Uche Ojinmah, and his counterpart at the NARD, Dr Emeka Orji, signed on behalf of the doctors.