Doctors in government hospitals yesterday began a nationwide indefinite strike with patients being left stranded at the Out-Patient Departments (OPDs).
Hospital pharmacists also withdrew their services in the industrial action.
The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) on Monday withdrew their services to out-patients while the Government Hospital Pharmacists Association (GHOSPA) also closed their facilities to further press home their displeasure about government’s attitude towards addressing their concerns about their remuneration, especially the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission and the Labour Commission.
A visit by DAILY GUIDE to some of the health facilities in Accra and other parts of the country revealed that patients had been waiting at the OPD since morning to see a doctor.
Some were not even aware that doctors were on strike.
The patients, after waiting for hours with no hope of being attended to, had to leave the hospitals with their folders containing lab test documents and other medical reports from their previous visits.
According to nurses at the Korle Bu Poly Clinic, and Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, although they were discharging their duties, the doctors were not attending to patients.
Jane Mensah, who was hoping to see the doctor for further examination of her ailment, was disappointed as she only got the information about the strike action at the clinic.
Relatives of in-patients were unable to buy the prescribed medicines as the hospital pharmacy shops were also closed.
The pharmacy shops were locked with a notice posted at the door which read, ‘Due to the ongoing strike action by government and hospital pharmacists, we regret to inform you that our services have been suspended until further notice. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused.’
Eric Baidoo, who was also at the Korle Bu Pharmacy to purchase medicine for his daughter who had an eye problem, was upset as he said it would be difficult to get the medicine outside the hospital.
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Korle Bu, Mustapha Salifu, told DAILY GUIDE that doctors were a critical part of the health service team; therefore the withdrawal of their services has made the smooth delivery of health services difficult.
He, however, said the hospital had provided the necessary input to enable the doctors to take care of emergency cases and treat in-patients.
The Ministry of Health in a statement assured the public that it has provided some mitigating measures to minimise the impact of the strike action by the doctors and pharmacists.
The statement noted that the Ministry would provide additional medical consumables and drugs to the 37 Military and the Police Hospitals whilst it sought amicable solution to the current misunderstanding between the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission, the Labour Commission, GHOSPA and GMA.
‘In this regard, we wish to ask the general public to stay calm since healthcare delivery is not going to be stalled,’ it stated.
It said, ‘The negotiation has not concluded. Our understanding is that FWSC is still committed to continuing the negations. It is therefore the view of the Ministry that the people of Ghana, the poor and vulnerable as well as distressed patients would be served should the GMA and GHOSPA continue to negotiate with a view to reaching agreement with the FWSC.’
The ministry, therefore, urged the GMA and GHOPA members to rescind their decision and return to work while they continued to negotiate with the FWSC or allow the National Commission to arbitrate.
The GMA has, however, noted that the strike action would be sustained and extended to emergency cases and treatment of in-patients until government pays its members their current market premium on 2012 basic salaries. Contrary to the ruling of the National Labour Commission, the market premium arrears incurred since January 2013 to date, corrected the reduced pension contributions of its members and paid doctors their conversion difference.
Dr. Justice Duffu Yankson, Assistant General Secretary of the GMA, quoting from the statement issued at the end of the second national executive council meeting in Kumasi, said the association would from Monday April 15, 2013, suspend all emergency services whilst in-patients care continued till the patients were discharged.
He said, ‘The national executive will not accept any piece meal and verbal solutions to these problems.’
The president of Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana (PSGH), James Ohemeng Kyei, also noted that the strike action by GHOSPA would continue until their grievances were addressed.
‘We are maintaining our decision until further notice,’ he said.
Government Hospitals in Kumasi appeared deserted yesterday as the first day of medical doctors’ strike commenced in earnest, taking a heavy toll on pain-groaning patients who had come to access the facilities.
Patients, who had no idea about the ongoing strike, went to the state-run hospitals only to be disappointed after they were turned away with the excuse that ‘there were no doctors to look after them.’
The development has since caused increased patients traffic at private health centres with operators smiling to the banks.
The GMA, which announced the strike action on Sunday, said government’s refusal to pay them the current market premium on 2013 basic salaries contrary to the ruling of the National Labour Commission (NLC) as well as premium arrears accrued since January 2012 to date, had informed the action.
President of GMA, Dr. Kwabena Opoku-Adusei, said non-correction of reduced pension contributions of the association’s members were also part of the move.
While the strike is taking a bite, patients are now relying on God for healing with many of them expressing dismay about the development.
And with the refusal of the government to accede to the demands of the doctors, some residents of Kumasi feared the strike might travel beyond the one week period set out by the GMA.
A nursing officer at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH), who spoke on condition of anonymity, told DAILY GUIDE the public health sector would soon paralyse if government did not attend to the demands of the doctors on time.
Eric Asante, a teacher, who had to rush his wife to KATH for her check-up, went back home disappointed since there were no doctors to treat her, having waited for several hours.
He said: ‘My wife is a diabetic patient, and she is suffering from an acute disease. I can’t afford to lose her. I want government to attend to the demand of the doctors so that they can return. We are dying here, but government does not seem to care.’
Other patients had to bear the brunt of the doctors’ strike when they visited Suntreso and Kumasi South Hospitals with most of them suffering from malaria and fever due to typhoid.
By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri, Lady Agyapong, Accra & Ernest Kofi Adu, Kumasi