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06.09.2005 Feature Article

The Doctor's Strike - Watch out for the Shylocks

The Doctor's Strike - Watch out for the Shylocks
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A GNA Feature by Boakye-Dankwa Boadi

Accra, Sept. 6, GNA - Hippocrates and his students at Cos in Greece, keepers of the eternal flame of Medical Practice, must be appalled about the level that their profession has fallen to in Ghana. Since the publication of the Abraham Flexer Report in 1910, one distinctive feature medical education has stressed is the practical responsibility of taking care of human beings.

It is, therefore, strange that members of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) have allowed the few Shylocks in their midst to rock the boat of medical practice in the beloved country by starting a strike action last Friday September 2 2005.

One is tempted to speculate whether the products of the country's medical schools are of the requisite calibre in all aspects? Have they been taught to regard their practice as moneymaking venture or service to humanity?

While the products might be adept, one wonders whether they have been trained to have the humane touch - that thin line between professionals and mercenaries.

The members of GMA are aware that they are dealing with human life and their actions or inactions have dire consequences. One could understand when GMA called strikes to demand improvement in their working environment so that they could do what they have been trained to do but definitely not when they are on strike to demand their personal comfort, which is resulting in the death of a number of people.

Ghana News Agency reports indicate that the nationwide strike action by Medical Officers in public health institutions to back their demand for payment of Additional Duty Hour Allowance continues to cause the death of a number of people across the country.

The sick that are rushed to public health institutions are turned away leading to their death.

At the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, an 84 year-old woman, Madam Akua Obiyaa, the mother of this writer, was turned away when she was rushed there on Saturday, leading to her death. Although the action by the medical personnel has been condemned by the public and described as unnecessary, the Doctors have still not returned to post.

When the GNA visited the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital on Monday morning the situation remained unchanged as some patients wandered in the precincts of the major blocks while the nurses attended to others. The Principal Nursing Officer in charge of the Children's Ward, Mrs S. Owusu-Boakye, said the nurses were doing their best to "keep the momentum" until the seeming stalemate between the doctors and the government was resolved.

At the accidents unit, Mr Edmund Amarteyfio, a patient, told the today, they came and examined us thoroughly".

A doctor, who spoke on the basis of anonymity, said they were only attending to persons already on admission at the hospital.

"There is no way we'll attend to any new patient admitted by the hospital until our demand is met," he threatened.

At the Ridge Hospital, the GNA found some doctors and nurses attending to patients in the wards but were not admitting new cases. The Out-Patient Department (OPD) was empty because there were no doctors to attend to patients.

Mr. Michael Agyekum, a Paramedic at the Hospital, told the GNA that, there was no need for the nurses and other para-medical staff to admit more patients when there were no doctors on duty. He said the nurses were only attending to patients who reported to the hospital before the doctors went on strike.

Mr. Agyekum appealed to the government to resolve the problem with the arrears from the Additional Duty Hour Allowance (ADHA) to enable the doctors resume work.

He said even though most nurses and paramedics were working, not much could be achieved if the doctors did not come back on time to assist.

The GNA was informed that the Supervising Medical Director of the Hospital was attending a meeting.

The National Labour Commission (NLC) has directed the Ghana Medical Association to call off its strike action, while negotiations continue. This is because negotiating, while the strike is continuing amounts to unfair labour practice contrary to section 161 (1) of the Labour Act which states: "a party to an industrial dispute shall not resort to a strike or lockout during the period when negotiating, mediation or arbitration proceedings are in progress."

A statement signed by Mr Kwesi Danso Acheampong, Deputy Chairman of the NLC, said it was expected that as a registered trade union, Ghana Medical Association would respect and comply with the provisions of the Labour Act that regulated industrial relations practice and immediately end the strike action.

"In response to a letter from the Ministry of Health asking the National Labour Commission to arbitrate in their dispute with public sector doctors, the Ghana Medical Association has written to the Commission stating its willingness to subject the matter to arbitration at a date and time given by the Commission.

"In spite of their willingness to have the dispute settled by arbitration, it has come to the notice of the Commission that the Ghana Medical Association is negotiating with the Ministry of Health.

In view of this, the Commission directs that the Association calls off its strike action while negotiations are continuing as it amounts to unfair labour practice contrary to section 161 (1) of the Labour Act."

One might ask the members of the GMA: How many Ghanaians are paid the right salaries in their work places? If fuel station attendants, who are paid less than 500,000 cedis a month, refused to work, would they get fuel for their new vehicles? If sanitary labourers, who received 450, 000 cedis a month refused to do their work can the Medical Officers cope with the stench that would engulf their houses and workplaces? If the Media for example should refuse to pass on an early warning message of an impending earthquake, whose epicentre is the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, because they are not well paid, what would happen?

Members of GMA knew the conditions of service of Medical Officers in the country and yet they struggled to enter the universities to read medicine. Is it not too late in the day for them to ask for kingly treatment after they have finished their course? One appreciates the sacrifices some of them are making but as the Elders say there is always the lurking evil one among the lot and the good must be on the look out.

One truth that should be brought home to all and sundry is that Ghana is a developing country with a weak economic base. The country cannot pay the big salaries the developed economies pay their workers. Ghanaian workers could desire to live comfortably to a certain extent but definitely not to the level as in Britain or America. Any such expectation is wishful thinking.

The writer is the Chief Editor, Gate-Keeping, at the Ghana News Agency.