Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Does The Hippocratic Oath Still Hold Any Meaning For The Medical Profession In Ghana?

It is unlikely to become superannuated. It serves as a powerful reminder  and declaration that we are all a part of something infinitely larger, older, and more important than a particular specialty or institution....The need for physicians to make a formal warrant of diligent, moral, and ethical conduct in the service of their patients may be stronger than ever.
                                                            -  Dr. Howard Markel.

The quotation above is Dr. Howard Markel's viewpoint on the relevance of the Hippocratic Oath. He is a George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of The History of  Medicine at the University of Michigan and Director of the University of Michigan's Centre for the History of Medicine. He is also professor of  Psychiatry, Health Management, History, and Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases.

As is commonly known, it takes years of study and training, to become a medical doctor. And when they finally graduate from medical school, and start work, a medical doctor's working day, seeing and treating patients, is often full of stress.

It is also a fact that medical doctors all over the world are highly-respected members of society. And quite right too - for healthcare professionals ensure the health of the citizens of nations the world over. And health, it is said, is wealth.

That is why all Ghanaians ought to be concerned when there is agitation by healthcare professionals over pay and working conditions.

It is a pity that 91 medical doctors - who had apparently not been paid for as long as  11 months - had to besiege the head office building of the Controller and Accountant General's Department, in Accra, before they were paid. Why were they not paid all those months?

The government ought to ensure that it provides doctors (and other healthcare professionals) in government hospitals with conditions of service that are fair and take account of the peculiar and demanding nature of their work - as demanded by the Ghana Medical Association (GMA).

Having said that, it is also important to make the point that the medical profession is not one for mercenary individuals. Those of them who want to live the lifestyles of tycoons, at taxpayers' expense, should set up their own hospitals - and resign from the employment of the Ghana Health Service.

Doctors employed in government hospitals must be reasonable in the demands they make on the public purse. Despite what members of our political class say, Ghana is still a poor developing nation - one only has to travel around the countryside to realise that.

Perhaps to set the right tone, the government itself must get rid of the small army of "special assistants" and "presidential aides" at the presidency - to send a clear message to all public-sector workers that we are indeed in austere times.

Doctors and other public-sector healthcare professionals in Ghana must understand that their salaries are paid from the taxes collected from hardpressed Ghanaians, such as  truck-pushers, watchmen, market women and kayayie - who have to struggle daily to survive. Why deny such vulnerable people medical care when they need it? That is intolerable.

The public purse in Ghana is not a bottomless one. Elsewhere, doctors have had to take pay cuts. Junior doctors in Ireland, for example, had their annual salaries cut from €60,000 to €50,000 last year, because of the difficulties faced by the Irish economy. The same goes for doctors in Greece - some of whom have had as much as 40% slashed from their salaries.

Relatively speaking, Ghanaian doctors are better paid than many professionals, in the public-sector.

Whatever be the case, no one in Ghana should seek to justify strike action by public-sector medical doctors. We must never forget that strike action by doctors always results in avoidable and preventable deaths.

And when the Dr. Frank Serebours of the GMA speak in public, they must remember that no matter the provocation, as medical doctors, they must always be measured in what they say to their critics. Why call someone an "idiot" whiles speaking on live radio, when "genius" would be a far better word to express their feelings towards those critics?

It is morally untenable for doctors to deny treatment to those who go to government healthcare facilities when they fall sick - because professionals who took a solemn oath to treat the sick at all material times have chosen to ignore that solemn oath and gone on strike. That is totally unacceptable. Public-sector doctors owe it to ordinary Ghanaians never to go on strike.

The question is: How can those who take the Hippocratic Oath in good conscience refuse to serve those whose taxes pay their salaries and allowances?

Does the Hippocratic Oath no longer hold any meaning for public-sector medical doctors in Ghana? It would be shameful if that indeed were the case.

The Professor Easmons, Professor Dodus, Professor Laings, Professor Quarteys, Professor Oduros, Professor Baidoes, Professor Bensti-Enchills, and the rest of that generation of exceptional Ghanaian medical doctors, must be turning in their graves. Pity.

Public-sector workers of all categories and grades are employed to serve the ordinary people of Ghana. A law should be passed to ban all public-sector employees  from ever going on strike. The work they do, and the services they render the general public,  are essential prerequisites for life as we know it, in today's Ghana. Period.

Above all, the Hippocratic Oath ought to have some meaning for medical doctors employed in Ghana's public-sector healthcare facilities. Food for thought for the hardliners amongst the  GMA's leadership - who appear hell-bent on embarking on strikes at every opportunity that comes their way. Unspeakable and abominable behaviour, for medical doctors.

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