By Tony Ademiluyi
The National Health Service, NHS, was established in 1948 – three years after the end of World War II which the UK helped the world win by aligning herself with the Allied forces led by the United States with the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) being a prominent member of the triumvirate.
The raison d’etre behind its formation was to give services that are befitting of a King to all Brits. The idea of Universal Healthcare Coverage originated in the NHS, which was quickly copied by the Scandinavian Countries and Canada.
Despite its public service status, its services are top-notch and are coveted by both British citizens and foreigners alike. We recall that former British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was treated in an NHS facility when he caught covid-19 during the lockdown.
Modern Day Reality
The strike embarked upon by the junior doctors and later by some senior doctors working in the NHS shows that all is not well with the public health institution. Who could have imagined that strike action could be embarked upon by these doctors in a developed nation and member of the prestigious G-7? This is the news you hear about in Nigeria and in some African countries.
Nigerian Doctors’ View About the Strike
Abuja Politico spoke with three Nigerian Doctors working in the NHS. The choice of Nigerian doctors was deliberate because of the large number of them working in the land of Nigeria’s erstwhile colonial masters. Nigerian doctors constitute the third largest number of foreign doctors working in the UK after the Indians who are the highest and Pakistanis who follow the former British Raj closely.
Therefore, these doctors – most of them who trained in Nigeria are stakeholders in the UK healthcare system despite the non-citizenship status of a majority of them because of their gargantuan and robust contributions to the health sector in the country that once had the world’s largest number of colonies.
Two of the doctors pleaded anonymity and they said was revealing.
Dr. Mayowa Olagoke of the NHS said there was a lingering issue of poor pay due to the lack of a regular upward review. Coupled with the long working hours, many of these doctors not unexpectedly experienced burnout.
He said: “Firstly, there is a justified call for pay restoration. Over the years, the real-time value of junior doctors’ pay has significantly eroded, reaching a point where it is now at least 25 percent lower than in 2009. Considering the recent increase in living costs, this situation has become unsustainable for many doctors. It is imperative that their pay is restored to ensure fair compensation for their invaluable contributions to the healthcare system.”
He also commented on the issue of the service being grossly understaffed when he continued: “The demand for increased staffing is crucial. While it is true that hospitals often rely on locums to bridge gaps in staffing, an understaffed department can have detrimental effects on patient care and doctor well-being. By providing adequate staffing levels, we can ensure a safer and more efficient healthcare environment, benefiting both patients and doctors alike”.
He went on to say: “Improving working conditions and addressing the sincerity of government funding for the NHS are vital aspects to consider. The recent creeping deficit in funding has raised concerns about the long-term sustainability of the healthcare system. By prioritising funding and allocating resources appropriately, the government can demonstrate its commitment to the NHS and alleviate the burden on doctors who tirelessly serve on the front lines. It is crucial that stakeholders engage in constructive dialogue to find a resolution that addresses these valid concerns. The junior doctors’ strike is a clear indication that action is necessary to ensure a sustainable and equitable healthcare system for all. By acknowledging and working towards meeting these demands, we can create an environment that supports our dedicated healthcare professionals and delivers the high-quality care that every patient deserves.”
Dr. Olagoke said there was no underlying protest at many migrant doctors coming into the NHS when he said: “I don’t think that term migrant explosion is correct. Maybe Illegal migrants are increasing … Yes. Also, that isn’t part of the critical source point for the strike action. The truth is that Migrant workers make up a good number of the workforce in the NHS from to cadre … down to the bottom”.
The Nigerian-trained physician then concluded by saying: “The Junior doctor strike concerns any Junior doctor who is part of the BMA i.e. British Medical Association”.
The second Nigerian doctor who spoke anonymously had this to say: “Any Nigerian worker who is a consultant or junior doctor is entitled to join the strike- my suspicion is they would have left the picket lines to their entitled oyinbo colleagues! On the contrary- the NHS is held up by foreign workforce nurses/health care assistants and doctors-they need us more than we need them! All health workers are overworked -no specific demography is being made to work like slaves.”
The third Nigerian doctor who asked for their identity to be kept secret said that “They were striking to ask for a pay rise.” she dismissed any fears of the hiring of migrant doctors as a cause of the strike when she said, “this has been a lingering problem. The pay is static and is not keeping with the rising inflation.” she said that some Nigerian doctors joined the strike as well. She went on to posit that she was confident that there will be no xenophobic attacks on foreign healthcare workers when she said: “Maybe in some sectors. In the health sector, unlikely, there is a huge demand for healthcare professionals.” She debunked the report that NHS doctors were overworked when she said: “Not true in the NHS. I heard that it is an issue in the private sector, particularly the NES.”
Rishi Sunak’s Error of Judgement
Apparently embarrassed by the strike and facing the prospect of the passage of a vote of no confidence in his government, the administration of Rishi Sunak did something rather cruel and brutal towards Nigerians.
His administration went ahead to exponentially hike the price of both work and student visas and it is projected that about one billion pounds would be realised from what is seen as a sinister increase.
He then further angered the Nigerian community resident in the UK by saying that the financial needs of the doctors would be met from the windfall obtained from the blood and sweat of toiling Nigerians whom either desire a better education or a decent job and therefore want to japa to live like human beings rather than having the same status as beasts of burdens in their so-called country.
The critical question to ask is why should Nigeria be singled out for this punitive measure when statistics have even established that it is citizens from his native India that flock to the UK the most. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. There seem no genuine reasons why Nigeria should be made the fall guy or scapegoat for the deficiencies of the British Health System as if it is they that have obviously weakened it and dampened its efficiency.
Naija No Dey Carry Last
King Charles III then Prince Charles echoed this popular local lingo while on a state visit to Nigeria some years ago.
It is imperative for the Nigerian community in the UK to resist this racist and unjust law in a similar way that some brave Nigerians prominent among which is a Port Harcourt-based changemaker, Ebenezer Wikina is resisting the derogatory IETLS UK examination being written by graduates in a country where the official language or lingua franca is English. The agenda like that of Sunak’s proposal is simply to fleece innocent and hapless Nigerians.
The general feeling among Nigerians in the UK irrespective of social status or tribe, is to rise up as one and not only vehemently reject this bad law but lead the trigger that will lead to the ouster of the Conservative party from office and put behind, albeit temporarily their ruthless legacy of anti-immigrant policies.