I am a doctor and a member of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA). I was very sad when I heard the position of our President on the GMA’s proposal for our conditions of service (COS). To hear our President describe our request for conditions of service as an attempt to bring the single spine pay policy to its knees was really painful. I believe that all categories of workers are important but there is a reason why the President is paid more than me and I have no problem with that. To ask for what I think I am due is not to say that somebody’s work is more or less important.
In this short write up, I bring to the reader a few experiences of what being a doctor has meant to me and the reason why I feel sad over the President’s remarks.
As I write this piece, there is a problem with my left shoulder which I sustained while lifting a patient unto a couch to send to theatre. No government money has been spent on my treatment. The first time I contracted chicken pox was on the Mother-and-Baby Unit (MBU) of the Komfo Anokye Teaching hospital while I was a house officer. My treatment and the treatment of my son who contracted the disease from me were borne by me. When I had a needle prick injury while operating a patient, it was an anxious moment because there is no provision that caters for my welfare and that of my family if I contracted any disease. While working in Tarkwa, there were times that I slept on the ward because I was tired of being called back just on reaching home. There was one occasion when in addition to other responsibilities, I had to do seven caesarean sections in 24 hours. There were times on the paediatric ward in KATH when consultants, residents, house officers and medical students had to contribute to pay for medicines for patients. Unlike other countries, we sit in consulting rooms in the morning with no idea of how many patients will come to the clinic. We do not go out to tell them that we are tired and hence they should go home. The basic salary we are paid is supposed to cover for whatever number of patients that we see and the surgeries that we do.
The above experiences – injuries, infections, heavy workloads around the clock, are routine for doctors in Ghana. Any doctor in Ghana who has no such experiences like I have narrated above is not practicing in Ghana, but we do these with no risk allowances, no cover for our own health care and that of our spouses and children, no compensation for the huge work burden that we shoulder, and we have to find time to do locums in order to feed our families.
The conditions under which we work leave us with one of two options: either we continue working and never retire till we fall dead or we have to retire and live as paupers. These are the realities of the practice of our profession in government institutions in Ghana. Furthermore, there are several government workers who are receiving something similar to our request or more. In all sincerity, we are only asking for conditions that will make us capable of taking care of ourselves and our families. Is it not strange that while other categories of staff are paid rent allowance, the little government apartments that we occupy rather attract as much as 10% deduction from our salaries? As doctors, our working conditions relative to those of other sectors in the essential services classification can best be described as ridiculous.
The President’s remark is really heartbreaking but that is where we have come to. This situation however has significant implications for health service delivery in this country and I will humbly implore the President to take a look at the conditions of service of all the other essential service providers and juxtapose it to the request of the doctors. If Mr. President will do this and still believe that our requests are baseless and that we are a bunch of nation wreckers and saboteurs, I will from hence have nothing to say about these discussions anymore. I only urge him to take a look.
GOD BLESS OUR HOMELAND GHANA, GOD BLESS MEDICAL PRACTICE IN GHANA AND GOD BLESS GMA
Dr. Moses Barima Djimatey