Tuesday, October 4, 2011

National Health Bill: Health workers urge Jonathan to withhold assent

By BIMBOLA OYESOLA


Workers in the health sector have commended President Goodluck Jonathan for not assenting to the National Health Bill as presented to him in May . They appealed that the bill be sent back to the National Assembly for the required review of sections that would make it holistic in projecting the needs and aspirations of all members of the health team and the common Nigerians.

The workers, under the aegis of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) applauded President Jonathan’s government for his sensitivity to the voice of Nigerians on key policy issues, especially as packaged in your transformation agenda.

“This you aptly demonstrated graciously, by not assenting to the National Health Bill, as presented to you in May 2011, after health professionals and other workers peacefully expressed their angst at some draconian provisions in the bill,” the workers stated.
According to the letters addressed to President Jonathan and jointly signed by the National President of the Union, Mr Ayuba Wabba and Secretary General, Mr Marcus Omokhuale, drew attention of the President to the slips made by previous health minister in the draft of the bill now considered as the Medical Health Bill.

They noted that Dr. Eyitayo Lambo, the former minister of Health anchored the policy-formulation process that arrived at what had become the first draft of the bill, while the sector had equally been consistently dominated by the medical doctors, since 1985 when the late Prof. Olikoye Ransome-kuti, through the obnoxious decree No. 10 of 1985 placed a ceiling on the career prospects of other health professionals and ended their ascensions to directorate positions in the health care sector.

“The services have continued to witness a falling standard. The National Health Bill is therefore expected to address this prevailing non-performance syndrome in the healthcare delivery system and make it effective, efficient and thereby improve the pitiful health indices of the nation.

“The debilitating situation of poor performance rates, high rates of restiveness and the collapsing of health care delivery in the country notwithstanding, the National Health Bill, as it is presently might be recreating a scenario likely to deepen the crisis in the sector that would further give the Nigeria healthcare service poor rating all over the world,” the Workers warned.

The following sections are particularly contradictory to existing statutory laws in the country and against your government’s transformation agenda and the spirit of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG).
The Union expressed that Section I, sub-section (i), which stated thus: “There is hereby established for the Federation, the National Health system, which shall define and provide a frame work for standards and regulation of health services was against the Millennium Development Goal (MDG)’s transformation agenda of the president.

The Workers insisted that the Health Sector is made up of multi-professional groups having statutory regulatory bodies (councils and boards) charged with specific responsibilities of defining and providing regulatory standards for the professional practice of each of the groups.

The Workers explained that their input on the bill to the Senate Committee on Health made this clear that the section is contradictory and attempts to usurp the powers already given to similarly existing bodies such as Environmental Health Officers’ Registration Council, Community Health Practitioner Council of Nigeria and Radiographers Registration Council of Nigeria, stressing that such in itself has put the bill on a nullity.

In their view: “We therefore wish that the National Health Act should provide a level playing field to allow health professionals practice their professions as provided by their different regulatory bodies without any inhibition”.
The Union also frowned at a section in the bill that stated that, “The commission shall consist of Executive Chairman, who shall be a Medical Doctor.”

“This is obviously derogatory and discriminatory, when a law makes position exclusive for a class of people in a system that has multi-professional groups. This is ultra-vires and against the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The commission in itself as structured is administrative and by arrogating the headship of various administrative positions in the health sector exclusively to the Medical Doctors, further leaves one in doubt about the sincerity of the bill itself. Even Dr Eyitayo Lambo in an interview on the NTA network admitted that the bill has lost more than 25% of its original context”, the MHWUN representatives insisted.

Citing instances of United States, United Kingdom, Japan and India where the Health sector leaderships belongs to other vocation, they harped that the NMA’s influence on the Bill is not in conformity to the international best practice but sheer self-serving action that is against the transformation policy of the country.

The Union therefore charged the President to withhold his Assent to the Bill, in the nation’s interest, stating that the union said the bill was not only obnoxious, but self serving, made to perpetuate the interests of medical doctors who are already in control of all the Professional Councils, Tertiary health Institutions and the Ministry without much positive result.

It also called on the President to address the continued marginalization of other professionals in the health sector, even as it maintained that MHWUN organizes not less than 17 Health Professionals and not less than 60% of the entire workforce in the health sector.
“With the foregoing, we call on your Excellency, to use your distinguished office to ensure that justice is done within the context of decision-making structures and processes in the health sector, as should be captured in a National Health Act that will promote teamwork and industrial harmony necessary for an effective healthcare delivery system,” the MHWUN stressed.