The President, J.A. Kufuor, has reminded medical doctors to be guided by the Hippocratic Oath they have sworn to provide medical care for society in a humane manner and asked them to look forward into the future devoid of chronic industrial tension.
Addressing the 50th Annual General Conference of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) in Accra, the President said it was unalloyed commitment to the noble oath that would enable doctors to maintain the special place of honour they enjoyed in the society.
The call comes against the backdrop of concerns being expressed by medical doctors for a review of their salaries.
The GMA has often used strikes as a weapon to back its demand for increased salaries.
President Kufuor asked the GMA to inculcate in all its members the need to always remember that their calling was a missionary one for humanity and that they should also be committed to being in the vanguard of the development of the nation wherever duty called.
“Certainly, judged by conditions of service as they prevail in some better endowed economies, our doctors may find their earnings inadequate,” he stated, “but they should try to appreciate what this government has been trying to do in this regard, even in the current circumstances of the national economy, and bear with it.”
President Kufuor asked the doctors never to allow suspicion to get the better of the humanitarian considerations of the society generally, even as the government showed faith and commitment to respect negotiated settlements on salaries and allowances.
“On the part of this government, l assure the association of its continued good faith and reasonable support always,” he added.
Welcoming a suggestion made by the GMA to the government to pay attention to medical facilities and resources, President Kufuor asked health personnel to appreciate the dramatic improvement and modernisation of key hospitals at all levels since 2001, without overlooking the necessary improvement in the conditions of service of personnel in the health sector.
He said within the short period of about three years the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) had already attained an impressive coverage of more than 50 per cent of the national population.
“The challenge now is how to improve the efficiency of its management so that as coverage and access improve, quality of care, reimbursement of providers and health facilities will also improve accordingly,” he stated.
The major constraint to some of the laudable initiatives, he said, was that severe human resource shortage continued to plague the health sector, with the doctor-patient ratio not being the best.
He said currently the doctor-patient ratio was one to 13,000 nationally, while the ratio in the Upper East Region was one to 29,000, with the ratio in Upper West being one to 44,000, while it is one to 90,000 in the Northern Region.
President Kufuor said the acute disparity in the distribution of doctors was further compounded by the refusal of many qualified health personnel to be posted to those regions.
He said appealing to the conscience of most of the medical personnel to accept posting to rural areas was not working and, therefore, the government had tried to use strategies, including differentiated salaries and allowances for doctors and other health personnel, as a motivation to move critical personnel to the rural and deprived areas of the country.
The Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Georgina Wood, added her voice to the call on doctors to be mindful of their Hippocratic Oath and always opt for negotiated settlement of all issues, instead of pursuing actions which could undermine the efficient delivery of health services.
While appreciating the sacrifices of doctors, she said many people depended on the public health system and, therefore, negotiation was a better option.
“Strikes are alien to the Judiciary,” she added.
Mrs Justice Wood tasked the members of the GMA to use their leverage in society to educate the public on their crucial responsibility towards the December general election.
“The future looks promising for our country,” she stated.
The Minister of Health, Major Courage Quashigah (retd), said the ministry's health policy was focused on healthy living to prevent diseases, instead of concentrating on the curative approach.
The President of the GMA, Dr E. Adom Winful, said although the NHIS was laudable, its implementation had been bedevilled with so many challenges, including outstanding payment of claims, which threatened the future of the scheme.
He called on the government to make deprived areas more attractive for doctors who accepted posting to work in those places.
Story by Nehemia Owusu Achiaw