The Campaign for Democratic and Workers' Rights (CDWR) commends the striking workers of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) for their resoluteness to demand for their rights and bringing back the lost glory of the institution from its dilapidated state.
It would be recalled that on Wednesday, June 16, 2004 the workers, organised under six unions and associations operating in the health sector, i.e. Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists, National Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists, National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Non-Academics Staff Union (NASU), Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), and National Association of Secretarial Staff of Nigeria embarked on strike over the non-payment of their 22% increase in HATTIS IV, which runs into 19 months. This 19 months arrears is from excess or balance of salaries based on the federal government increase in salary, but which the management of LUTH allegedly diverted despite the payment of the same salary structure to workers of other Federal Teaching Hospitals.
More so, the striking workers are demanding the urgent renovation of dilapidated structures and repair or replacement, to good standard, of equipment or facilities in the institution to give conducive environment to improve the working condition of workers and fit for patients to stay.
The deplorable state of LUTH, based on our research, is another way of satisfying selfish interest of some few top management and consultants who see the health of the patients as a commodity which can be extorted or exploited to the point of death via luring patients' relations to expensive private hospitals subject to consultants' choices. LUTH now serves as a transit to other private hospitals belonging to the top official of the management. This is a by-product of age long decay and neglect of not only the health sector but also all other sectors by the government.
The Drug Revolving Fund (DRF), which was a self-sustaining fund set up to buy drugs for the hospital for sale to patients at moderate prices has been criminally mismanaged. The fund was fraudulently siphoned through systematically diverting money accruable to the fund to private pockets. Our research reveals that about N130m (One hundred and thirty million naira) is missing from the DFR as money meant for the fund from retainers such as big companies and deductions from salaries of staff who purchase drugs from the hospital end up not being paid into the account of the fund. The purported write-off of this huge sum of money by the management of LUTH effectively killed the drug revolving fund leading to a situation where drug suppliers are owed for as long as four years!
The refusal of such suppliers to supply drugs to the hospital has therefore placed the patients and their relations in double jeopardy. One, patients relations are left with the option of having to purchase drugs from private dispensers at prohibitive prices. Two, patients are exposed to fake and adulterated drugs. This is aside from the prevalent situation where drugs paid for by patients are not supplied because of the collapse of the DRF and patients have to buy the same drugs from private vendors effectively defrauding patients and collecting money for services not rendered. Rank and file LUTH workers have also been victims of this disgusting situation at one time or the other.
This is aside from the acute shortage of nursing and other Para-medical staff, lack of functional operating theatres and basic medical facilities, lack of ordinary stationeries as well as disrespect for the due process in the conduct of the hospitals' affairs among other acts of flagrant and deliberate mismanagement of LUTH as an institution.
Expectedly, the management and government are using subterfuge and threat against the striking workers to compel the workers to suspend the industrial action. Parts of these are the management's attendance list opened for workers to put down their names so that the erring workers would be punished for fighting a just struggle, the alleged forgery of signatures of the unions' leaders to deceive the general public of suspension of the strike, the use of armed security operatives to harass and intimidate the striking workers etc.
Up till now, the management has not provided any meaningful suggestion of meeting the demands of the striking workers. This protracted but just struggle has also forced the Ministry of Health and House of Representatives to set-up a ministerial committee and a panel to investigate the extent of deterioration of LUTH.
The striking workers should take pain in educating the general public, through mass media, leafletering, peaceful public rallies, e.t.c, on the need to see this strike as a struggle of reviving LUTH from total collapse contrary to believe of some members of the public and as reported by some sections of the press portraying the struggle as cynical disregard for the lives of patients who are in need of their services, and the impression given as if the strike is the cause of the lack of good facilities and medical attention.
The solidarity given by the national bodies of all the unions involved in the struggle is commendable. The national bodies agreed to call on all their members in other health institutions to support the LUTH workers by joining the struggle. This commitment should be put into immediate action until all the workers demands are adequately met. The health workers should not be left alone. They must link up with other unions outside the health sector and collectively struggle against the commercialisation of public utilities and sales of what belong to all - our common heritage - to few individuals in the name of privatisation. The NLC specifically must intervene by organising solidarity actions, picketing and rallies in support of the LUTH workers. The good, old labour saying that an injury to one is an injury to all must be put into action on this issue of health care which touches everybody.
The workers should demand and agitate for the following:
- Immediate payment of the 19-month arrears to the LUTH workers based on the already approved and released funds on HATTIS IV.
- Repair or replacement of equipment at the modular theatre and installation of x-ray and scanning machines at strategic units in LUTH.
- A halt to government privatization policies, which render public utilities prostrate in order for them to be sold as scrap.
- A better standard of living for LUTH workers through payment of real wages commiserate to the rate of inflation. Ditto for all Nigerian workers.
- Democratic ownership and management of public utilities and institutions, such that the decision making process could be democratized.