Patients in Lagos hospitals were caught napping on Monday this week when doctors in the state’s  General Hospitals went on strike again barely a week after they had suspended their strike at  the behest of the National Industrial Court. The court had on Wednesday, 18 August ordered the  doctors to suspend their strike to pave way for negotiations with the Lagos State Government on  their demands.

The doctors, under the aegis of the Medical Guild and the Association of Resident Doctors, ARD,  are demanding among other things, the immediate implementation of the new Federal Government  approved Consolidated Medical Salary Structure, CONMESS, approved for doctors at the federal  level. The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, has said that there is no way the  state government could pay the CONMESS since it was not included in the budget, adding that it  will cost the government N1.8 billion to pay the doctors monthly if it implements the CONMESS.

Though there is merit in the positions being canvassed by both parties, we want the doctors and  the government to reach a compromise and resolve the issue as quickly as possible. In the  interim, we appeal to the doctors to return to work immediately for the sake of the traumatised  patients who are bearing the brunt of the renewed strike. Given their Hippocratic Oath, the  preservation of the lives of patients by the doctors should be paramount at all times. In view  of this, the doctors should adopt a more humane approach to seeking implementation of their  demands rather than the combative approach many believe they have adopted since the strike  began.

The doctors should heed yesterday’s call by the President of the Nigerian Medical Association,  NMA, Idris Omede, that all affiliates of the union nationwide that are currently on strike  should suspend the strike while negotiation with the relevant authorities continues. He advised  the striking doctors to uphold the ethics of their profession, one of which is the preservation  of life of patients in their care.

Considering the huge investment of the Lagos State government in the health sector, with the  budgetary allocation to the sector increased from N2.5 billion in 2000 to as much as N24  billion in 2009, we understand the dilemma the government has found itself regarding the  additional N1.8 billion it would have to shell out monthly to pay the doctors the CONMESS.

The government has argued that it has placed high premium on the welfare as well as training of  medical staff, exchange programme for skill acquisition, with over 5,000 clinical staff  benefiting from such training. The doctors should reciprocate this gesture by reconsidering  their demand and returning to work pending the resolution of the trade dispute.

We also appeal to the doctors to reconsider their stance and go back to work for the sake of  the patients who are suffering as a result of the crippling industrial action. Because the  workforce in the health sector is the most prized asset, well meaning Lagosians should also  intervene in this matter which is taking a turn for the worse for the patients. If the  situation is allowed to persist, the casualties the strike will claim would be too much to  handle.

The ordinary people are the ones bearing the yoke of the strike as they cannot afford to treat  themselves in private hospitals because of the huge bills they will incur. Sometimes dialogue  is a better option for the resolution of grievances and not strike, especially in a sensitive  sector like health that is manned by doctors and other medical personnel whose duties are tied  to saving the lives of patients.