In the past four months, the security situation at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu State, has been very precarious. Doctors, nurses and other workers at the hospital, as well as patients, now live in fear.
Daily Sun gathered that there is no week that at least one robbery would not be recorded in the hospital. Those who know the health facility very well say it has been like that for long, apparently because of the isolated location of the hospital and its vast premises. But there has been an upsurge lately.
Our investigations revealed that robbers prowl the hospital at night. They accost health personnel as well as relatives of patients, most times at gunpoint, and dispossess them of their valuables. These daredevils sometimes storm the hospital wards to rob people.
In December last year, there was an incident at the house officers’ quarters within the hospital premises, involving a food vendor and some doctors. The armed robbers carted away phones and recharge card vouchers. At about the same period, nurses on duty at the labour ward were also attacked.
A repeat robbery incident at the interns/health workers’ quarters happened in January 2019, where one Eunice in the Medical Laboratory Science Department was robbed and dispossessed of her phones, money and other valuables.
For the hospital community, the second week of February was their greatest nightmare following the number of robberies that occurred between February10 and February 16.
Within the period, a registrar diligently performing her duty was robbed of her phone and other values at about 1am right in front of the Internal Medicine Ward on February 13. Similarly, in a most scary incident, four doctors reading at the ARD Doctors’ Library/Reading Room were robbed of their phones, laptops, car keys and other valuables.
Daily Sun also learnt of the case of a female doctor, Dr. Chisom Ogu, who was called to see a patient at the Accident and Emergency Unit, where she was attacked by the unrestrained bandits as she walked back to her call room.
On March 6, Dr. IK Okoro of the paediatrics department was robbed at gunpoint and dispossessed of all his belongings. Again, the criminals visited the house officers’ quarters a day after to torment residents.
A medical doctor who volunteered information but pleaded anonymity told Daily Sun that the situation has been very disconcerting.
“All these are from sources within the hospital, which for fear of victimisation would rather not speak. Even to get the names of victims was a challenge; they’ve kept it secret. But of course victims will talk. The management is playing a game of Russian roulette with the lives of her staff. I am concerned that a doctor will soon be killed in the line of duty. These events are on the rise.
“Also, patients’ relatives are being hit daily and nobody hears of it,” he lamented.
His colleague, an official of the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) said the situation has led to loss of morale among the workforce of the hospital, in addition to the psychological trauma associated with the attacks.
“This is one experience you would never wish even an arch-enemy. The feeling is akin to being suspended on a thin string between life and death. Many don’t get to recover from it.
“I am aware that the management called stakeholders to a meeting sometime in February but nothing concrete has changed. They even promised to replace phones that were lost but phones are not lives. If a life is lost, that is irreplaceable,” the doctor said.
In the light of the foregoing, the ARD called an emergency meeting on February 18, where they appraised the security situation in the hospital with particular focus on the efforts of management in addressing the issue.
A communiqué jointly signed by the president, Dr. Solomon Akponye, and general secretary, Dr. Izuchukwu Okam, stated that the ARD “observed palpable tension and fear among members of ARD UNTH as well as other staff in the hospital. The congress does not know the nature and intensity of next assault.”
Part of the group’s resolution read: “That the hospital management should ensure sustained lighting up of all the walk ways and critical flashpoints within the hospital at night, as these robbers operate at night and darkness when they will not be easily identified.
“That armed security guards and patrol teams (police, Civil Defence, St. Christopher, etc) be deployed at flashpoints through which the robbers launch their attacks and also to patrol the hospital premises regularly at night to give staff and patients sense of security.
“That the police post at the gate be made functional by posting police officers there to protect the hospital and its environs.
“That there be an immediate redeployment of the aged security personnel and replacing them with able bodied, young and active security personnel, so as to complement the efforts of the armed security personnel in protecting lives and property of members of staff on duty and indeed, the entire hospital.”
The doctors threatened that efficient night time duty services may not be guaranteed by their members should the management fail to put these measures in place within 24 hours upon receiving their letter, to guarantee safety of life and property in the hospital.
In the same hue, the local chapter of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) has condemned “the recent attacks on nurses and other staff on night duty by armed robbers along the hospital corridors and inside the wards with associated heavy losses of cash and materials such as phones, bags, jewellery, etc, by the victims.”
As a precautionary measure to safeguard the lives of their members who are mainly women and perform night duties more than any other professional group in the hospital, NANNM decided, among other things, that, henceforth, all activities that take nurses outside the wards such as transfer of patients should as much as possible be handled during the day.
An internal memo signed by the chairperson, Agbo, B. and secretary, Udutchay, R.T., also directed that “no nurse is expected to be seen along the corridors from 8pm; all doors to the wards should be locked by or before 8pm with strict control of traffic to and from the wards.
“All normal transfers by the Accident and Emergency Unit and other wards should be concluded before 8pm.”
It further advised them to take other precautionary measures deemed necessary to safeguard their lives “because life has no duplicate.”
In case of emergencies, the association warned that adequate arrangements should be made to ensure that enough people are involved in the movement including engaging hospital security men/women before any nurse can take the risk.
Our correspondent also met a relative of a patient who went to make use of one of the automated teller machines (ATMs) in the hospital and was forced at gunpoint by the criminals to transfer huge amounts of money to them.
When contacted, the hospital’s public relations officer, Cyril Keleze, confirmed the precarious security in the health facility but said that the management was working closely with the security agencies to arrest the situation and ensure that workers and patients were not molested any longer.
Given the nature of the area, Keleze suspected that those behind the crimes must be people who really understand the terrain. He disclosed that the chief medical director, Dr. Christopher Amah, recently led a delegation to the Enugu State Commissioner of Police, Sulaiman Balarabe, to present the issue before him.
“It has happened a few times, it is one of those things, but we are doing something about it. The police have stepped in and they have even apprehended some people. So, we are on top of the situation as I can tell you, having seen the commissioner of police and also liaising with the DPO Ozalla,” the hospital spokesman said.
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