Staff shortage hits UNTH as resident doctors continue strike over casualisation, non-payment of salaries

* ‘Medics patronizing loan Apps to feed’

A massive shortage of medical manpower has hit the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu State, following retirement of several doctors in the hospital.

The Nation learned that while there are many more who are due for retirement, plenty other young medics have left the hospital for greener pastures abroad.

The Nation also learnt that the growing dearth of doctors in the hospital had forced a response from the management of the hospital, who had in 2021, decided to engage over 160 medical doctors under a local arrangement known as Locum with a promise to regularise them to join the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) in six months.

However, these medical personnel, it was gathered, have been in practice in the last two years and not sure when their conversion would come. 

The Nation learned that while the medical personnel employed under Locum continued to work, they were however being owed not less than two months arrears of their monthly stipend as they are yet to be paid salaries.

The development has currently grounded medical activities at the hospital as resident doctors under the aegis of Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), UNTH, Enugu Chapter, have down tools.

The doctors, whose national association, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), had recently called off its industrial action, have refused to resume work at the UNTH, Enugu.

In fact, less than 24 hours after the national strike was called off, members at UNTH, Enugu, convened an emergency congress and declared the continuation of the industrial action.

The doctors stated that they would not return to work until the management of the hospital paid outstanding arrears of salaries of their Locum members as well as regularise the appointment of the affected doctors. 

Chairman of the Association of Resident Doctors, UNTH Enugu Chapter, Dr. Chinazom Ekwueme, decried the predicament of her colleagues, describing it as unacceptable and pitiable. 

She expressed worry over the prolonged locum tag on the over 160 resident doctors, urging the management to urgently resolve the issues.

She said: “Imagine as a doctor, you were employed and over two years you move from being a registrar, to being a senior registrar and on your way to becoming a consultant, yet you are still a contract staff, you are not entitled to anything, you are not entitled to Medical Residency Training Fund, you are not entitled to pension deductions. It is unacceptable that medical doctors will be casualised.

“The management keeps telling us there is an embargo on employment, that they can’t get a waiver, but here in our Southeast, we all know that other centres surrounding us have employed their own locum staff.

“So, we don’t know why it has been an issue for the past two years. The last time UNTH employed was in 2021, since then, we have not got another employment; as at that 2021, we had locum doctors but they were not employed, instead, fresh people were employed.

“The affected doctors are borrowing from colleagues, from corps members who are doctors and all that. It is sad.

“We have the opportunity to join the ‘japa syndrome’ but we said no, yet we are being treated in this manner. It is very unacceptable. In UNTH, we are overburdened,” she lamented.

One of the affected doctors, Dr Nwosu Ivan, of the Surgery Department, said that the suffering of their members was indescribable.

He lamented that octors are now patronising loan apps to feed their families, 

“The issue about owing locum doctors two months of salary in UNTH is very pathetic and I don’t wish that to even my enemies. I want to call on all men of goodwill, our consultants, our CMD and concerned citizens to know that doctors in UNTH are really suffering.

“We know the price of fuel since fuel subsidy was removed, we know the effect on our economy, our purse, the prices of goods have risen so high, the cost of medical treatment for doctors.

“You can imagine the effect on doctors who have not been paid their salary; many colleagues of ours have been trekking to work, that is a fact, because they have to park their vehicles; many of them take public transport whereby they spend thousands of naira each day and you see a lot of them showing signs of depression because of pressure from the society.

“Many of the locum doctors are sick but can’t afford their hospital bills; these are professionals, these are civil servants, these are supposed to be the middle class of the society, but they can’t afford basic necessities because they are being owed.

“The work pressure is much on the doctors; one person will run a whole clinic or a whole department for three months, which means being on call for 90 days and these people are meant to do this on empty stomach, they come to work, no food, no money to buy food.

“Doctors are now patronising loan apps to feed their families, it is very shameful. These workers have committed no crime; their mates are abroad but they decided to stay back; we are not asking for much; salary is basic,” Nwosu stated.

Her counterpart, Dr. Christian Omeje of Department of Child Dental Health, said it was heartrending that for the past two years, they have remained as locum resident doctors.

“When we came into the programme, we thought that this locum nomenclature would be erased from our appointment letters within two to three or highest six months, and that we will become permanent staff.

“Since I entered into the medical programme I never heard of locum residency. Residency is a time-bound programme, so adding locum to it is making it worse.

“It has been of serious psychological effect on us, answering that word locum has really dampened our spirit and it has affected us. We are also working as doctors and this situation is affecting the quality of attention we give to our patients”, he stated.

Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Prof. Obinna Onodugo, insisted that it is not management’s fault that the doctors have not been regularized.

According to him, the embargo on employment had not been lifted.

He blamed the federal government for the doctors inability to receive their pay.

“The option is for them to wait for federal government to grant us the waiver we have since requested, for them to be made permanent staff. It’s not me that will grant them a waiver, neither do I have the right to do so without the mandate from those that gave me a job to do for them.

“We have been to Abuja severally to the relevant agencies handling these matters. I have offered to take some of the Resident Doctors to Abuja to go and see for themselves, but they turned it down. What else am I supposed to do?”, he queried.

Onodugo, who agreed that the situation of the hospital was affecting the smooth running of the hospital, stated that efforts have been intensified to address their issues.


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