Akufo-Addo Urges Gov’t, Doctors To Return To Negotiation Table

Flagbearer of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), has called on both government and striking doctors to return to the negotiation table to bring an end to the national disaster the country has been plunged into.

Akufo-Addo said the doctors cannot remain on strike when people are dying.

In a statement, the NPP leader said even in normal times, Ghana’s health care delivery is far from better and the health sector cannot be any worse
than it already is.

He was adding his voice to a standoff between government and doctors that has led to latter declaring a strike action which is already two weeks old.

The doctors are demanding a codified conditions of service document which will guide their operations.

Their demands have been criticized by some government functionaries who have described the demands as outrageous.

But Nana Akufo-Addo said the two feuding parties must resolve the impasse.

For nearly two weeks now, the people of Ghana have looked on helplessly and been in a state of extreme anxiety as a healthcare system already under a lot of strain has almost shut down with a strike by medical doctors. A strike action by members of the Ghana Medical Association affects the majority of citizens as it is the GMA members who are the doctors in the public hospitals on which we all rely for our health needs.

This strike has been occasioned by the breakdown in the negotiations between the government and the GMA over the ‘Conditions of Service’ for medical doctors.

It is most unfortunate that these negotiations should have been allowed to degenerate into the lack of confidence and display of bad faith that would lead to a strike. It goes without much argument that medical doctors as a group of professionals do not easily resort to strike action. And it is important that all those who seek to comment on the problem, especially those who speak on behalf of government, avoid the name calling that has characterised government’s handling of the dispute so far. It is absurd that some members of government are seeking to politicise this strike by portraying the NPP as being the instigators. It is an insult to the intelligence and integrity of the thousands of doctors in this country.

The only path to a resolution of the problem is for both parties to return to the negotiation table. The doctors are negotiating to get the best terms as possible for their members, but they are not unreasonable nor are they economically illiterate. They are not unaware of the dire economic situation that Ghana is in as the result of the reckless mismanagement by this government. It is for this reason that they have stated that their proposals are for the 2016 budget. This should give government ample space to consider and, after negotiations are concluded, incorporate what is agreed in the 2016 budget.

Government negotiators should deal with the doctors as patriotic, knowledgeable, mature adults. The media war and selective leaking of negotiating documents should cease. The intimidation and threats should cease and the name calling should cease. The problem we face will not be solved even if all retired doctors should be drafted into our hospitals; the prospect of hiring retired doctors should therefore not be held out as part of the negotiations. The solution does not lie in asking people to go to private medical centres that accept National Health Insurance; many such institutions are already opting out of the scheme with the continued difficulty in paying for the services.

There cannot, and there will not be a resolution other than getting the doctors back to work. There is nothing to be gained from trying to call the bluff of the doctors. It is in all our interests that a negotiated settlement is found as quickly as possible. That will only happen when both sides go back to the table and negotiate in an atmosphere of mutual respect and a realization of the urgency of the situation.

I would respectfully tell the President of the Republic that Government cannot hide behind the IMF bailout programme to frustrate these important negotiations. The IMF programme seeks rightly to manage the government’s own home grown problem of fiscal imbalance created by the NDC over the last few years. A component of this is to limit the nominal increase in the total wage bill to 10 percent, supported by, among other measures, strict limits on net hiring in the public sector, which invariably affects emoluments. However, it is instructive to note that this freeze excludes the education and health sectors. Yet, over 2,000 qualified nurses and midwives are at home and have not been employed even though they are needed desperately by health facilities across the nation. If the IMF programme can recognise the fact these two sectors provide critical social services that must be protected and improved, then the least Ghanaians expect is for Government not to see negotiations on conditions of service with health workers in a negative light.

In the meantime, precious lives are being lost and a sense of fear and helplessness is pervading our nation. Our healthcare situation is not good even at the best of times and this standoff between the government and the GMA aggravates an already perilous state of affairs. Accidents and diseases are no respecter of persons or titles and we are all at risk and cannot afford to have the strike drag on. As the GMA meets on Friday, I pray that they be guided by their known professionalism and I urge the members to go back to the hospitals to demonstrate the goodwill that they have always displayed.

The Government on its part should realize that in matters of life and death, no one has the right to walk away from negotiating. I urge Government, and the Ghana Medical Association, to sit down until an agreement is reached. An agreement can be reached and must be reached.

Nana Akufo-Addo
2016 NPP Presidential Candidate

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