A post-mortem of the doctors' strike

By Ghanaian Chronicle

Those of us who can never have the means, the right, or the privilege of going abroad for medical treatment, can only hope that we have seen the last of a strike by our medical doctors.

My record at FOX FM and ANGEL FM, both in Kumasi, shows that I never supported the doctors' strike. My very personal reason was simple: 'If I fell ill during the strike, and had to go to a state hospital, which doctor would take care of me?'

On the other hand, I was not among those who insulted the striking doctors. After all, at the bottom of it all, doctors also need to better their economic circumstances like the rest of us. If there is a Ghanaian worker in this country today, who will reject an offer of more money than he earns, let him get up and say so.

With the benefit of hindsight, let us all admit the doctors' strike could have been handled better. The doctors themselves showed insensitivity, when they took the decision not to attend to even, emergency cases. Though they reportedly relented later, the damage to their image had been done.

Again, when Dr. Emmanuel Adom Winful, the National President of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), was asked about the possibility of patients in the ward dying, his answer was also insensitive. How could he say that with or without doctors working, patients would die anyway?

As a person trained to save lives, one would have expected Dr. Winful to, at least, go through the motions of showing concern, instead of giving that cavalier answer. Who does not know that, even with the best equipment and the best medical attention by very good doctors, patients will still die?

Never again should our doctors create the impression that 'Perhaps, by putting on the executioner's garb and watching the sick and injured die helpless, we have metamorphosed into despicable monsters (From the editorial of KATH NEWS , August 2007).

Of course, our doctors are not monsters. Even at the height of the strike, medical work still went on at the Korle-Bu and Komfo Anokye Teaching hospitals. Patients on admission were still reportedly attended to.

The concerted effort by people in authority, and on the fringes of power, to demonise the doctors was extremely despicable. The doctors were reportedly insulted as charlatans, murderers, and armed robbers.

If they are all these, then it is time for the right authority to take away their licences and get them prosecuted. Charlatans, murderers and armed robbers constitute a menace, and must be dealt with according to the law. It is a pity that one or two of these people would not even qualify to carry the white coat of these doctors. But, they say that is democracy, as if democracy confers on a person the right to gratuitously insult a fellow citizen.

Would our doctors go on strike if they also earned those fat emoluments currently enjoyed by so-called special assistants and what nots? When did it become a crime to ask for money from your employers?

It could be understood and ignored, if irresponsible rabble-rousers would let loose stinking abuse at the doctors. It is unpardonable when recognised officialdom sought to demonise the doctors and make them extremely unpopular.

Using the DAILY GRAPHIC as a convenient conduit, officialdom funneled lies to the public. A front-page report in that paper created the impression that the doctors were greedy people who still wanted more when they were on top of the wage pile. When the doctors convincingly rebutted this falsehood by attaching a pay-slip to their rejoinders, the GRAPHIC chose to bury the rejoinder in its centre pages, and not on the front page.

Again, there was a report tending to create the false impression that the doctors did not want the rest of us to come near them in the matter of salaries or wages. They reportedly wanted to be seen as tin-gods before whom others must bow.

Two persons who also chose to rub salt into the doctors' wound were Mr. Haruna Iddrisu, Minister of Communications, who was then acting as the Minister of Health, and Mr. Rojo Mettle-Nunoo, Deputy Minister of Health.

Ordinarily, Mr. Iddrisu is a young man with an adult head on his shoulders and who, therefore, refrains from making provocative or insulting statements.

Unfortunately, as part of the well-orchestrated campaign to demonise the doctors, instead of attending to the matter in hand, he chose to put in the indiscreet suggestion that in future, doctors would be required to sign a bond that would prevent them from going on strike!

Did the Minister sincerely think that any government of the day would dismiss fifty or more doctors for breaking their bond? Do we have more doctors than we know what to do with? Will that situation ever happen?

As for Mr. Mettle-Nunoo, his reputation as an insensitive foul-mouth has well been established. Insulting health service personnel has become his stock-in-trade.

He chose the path of thoughtless provocation when he told the doctors that they either had to take what the government was prepared to give them, or resign and go into private practice.

Another ploy to make the doctors unpopular was to put on the front page of the GRAPHIC that these striking doctors had secretly told nurses at the state hospitals to direct patients to their (doctors') private clinics.

That implied that the doctors did not care two hoots how long the strike lasted.

The impression was also created that after all doctors were no better than nurses who had masters' degree or PhD, and who had worked for any number of years, and that these nurses were as good as, if not better than, doctors. Would any honest nurse, no matter how experienced in her field, claim to be able to do the work of a medical doctor?

We say the service provided by a medical doctor is 'essential,' and that, therefore, he should not go on strike. Unlike most of us, he can also not go to work at 8:00 a.m. and go home promptly at 5 p.m. If the law treats the profession as essential, then why should we treat them as providing ordinary service?

In the KATH newsletter referred to, the doctors themselves state, 'As for insults, let us learn to accept them. They come from betrayed, frustrated and desperate patients. Let us resolve to sign a new deal with our patients, because of whom we have a job.'

This noble statement recognises, of course, that 'Doctors, nurses, and other health workers can only focus on their jobs, if someone else makes it their duty to look after their interests.' Most of the time, matters come to a head needlessly, because of foot-dragging, indifference or incompetence on the part of bureaucrats, or inaction by Central Government. Let us listen to the doctors instead of demonising and defaming them.

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