A tribunal set up by the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria, says it is poised to ensure that standards in nursing practice in Nigeria are upheld. Eromosele ebhomele reports.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council, NMC, is a body that can now bark and bite. This was made obvious last week when the regulatory body, through its Nursing and Midwifery Tribunal, suspended two nurses and arraigned another two for alleged sharp practices.
The Council was set up to regulate the nursing profession just like other professions in the country with regulatory bodies. But it had, prior to this time, been lying low in its activities as it could only bark. This resulted in some of the professionals going against the oath they took while being ushered into the profession after their graduation from school.
As a result, patients and their relatives had sour tales to tell about their experiences in the hands of some nurses. While many of the patients only engaged in grumbling before friends, as they did not know how to get such nurses disciplined, others resorted to complaining by using various portals on the internet.
A young lady, who gave her name as Jumie, while talking about her experience with nurses at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital,LUTH, explained that there was a nurse who all the other nurses hated because she was always responding to patients when they called on her. “They would insult her and call her names like Alaanu Samaria, which means ‘Good Samaritan’ whenever she went about her duties, while the other nurses would gist away at their station,” she explained.
Another Nigerian, who did not want his name mentioned, also narrated the ugly experience of some women who are taken to hospital especially when they are at the point of delivering their babies. “My wife delivered a baby girl last September and a nurse provoked me by asking silly questions instead of giving me the required answers. My wife came out from the labour room to tell me the horror behind the closed doors.
“While reeling in pains, you would hear them insulting you and reminding you that when you were having sex and did not remember the pains that awaited you. Some would be asking you if they were the ones that impregnated you. It is a pity that a labouring mother after repeatedly begging for attention gave birth to a dead baby as a result of prolonged labour; all the nurses could do was blame each other in the labour ward, and I’ll never forget the bitter wailing of that mother, she was weak and in tears.
“It’s really crazy how they also take advantage of the situation. They scare you into feeling totally helpless and then make you pay for assistance like showing you where and how to go about the cash payments.”
Hafees Keshinro, would never forget the day his elder brother lost a child at LUTH. According to him, that particular day, three children died as a result of the lukewarm attitude of the nurses on duty.
In a letter to the President in 2010, Keshinro said, “The three newborns gasped, thrashed their legs, and fought for their existence under oxygen masks that can no further dispense. The oxygen simply finished while the nurses on night duty went to sleep, allowing the cold hands of death to snatch the young children away.
“We were notified by 4.00 am of the demise of our baby, who just the last night was a bundle of joy to our family. Our daughter could have been another Chimamanda or Mary Onyali or even another Nobel laureate.
“How does one explain a scenario in which a member of my family present, went to the nurses to alert them of the children gasping under the mask, and she was insulted and told not to disturb their sleep, with the false assurances that the babies were okay?
“She went to complain more than four good times but they refused to heed. When the children died eventually, the other two parents were told they failed to buy the necessary drugs, ours was simply wickedness and madness at LUTH.”
It is a letter that leaves sour tastes in the mouth of any reader. But it is no longer lukewarm attitude as usual as the tribunal has started sitting with four cases in Lagos State.
One of the cases concerned a nurse, whose name was given as Mrs. Nimota Bolatito Aremu. She was alleged to have established an illegal clinic, which she named Oluwatoyin Maternity Home and operated it despite not being licensed.
She was said to have also carried out an operation on a patient, whose name was given as Mrs. Mary Orjiugo, with equipment which were not suitable.
She was suspended from practising as a nurse with another Oladejo Samson Adeleke, who on his own carried out caesarean section on a patient against the ethics of the profession.
Adeleke allegedly paraded himself as a medical doctor after illegally establishing a clinic known as Covenant Love Nursing Home at Asogbon Street, Ajebo, Lagos State, contrary to the provisions of Section 18 (1b) and 23 (2b) of the Nursing and Midwifery (Registration) Act of 2004.
The hospital was allegedly sited “in a decrepit and filthy environment thereby bringing the nursing profession into disrepute.”
At the inaugural sitting of the tribunal which was held at the Lagos Airport Hotel, the two accused were absent and this resulted in their suspension from professional practice till the cases against them are finally heard.
The third accused, Oguntimehin Dave Idowu, allegedly impersonated as a medical doctor and ran an illegal clinic known as Olumuyiwa Clinic and Maternity Home located at 13, Nurudeen Street, Orile-Iganmu, Lagos.
The charge sheet of the case against him stated that the accused allegedly administered a wrong treatment on one Wasiu Alate resulting in some complications that led to the latter’s blindness.
Another accused, Mrs. Juliana Uwayeme Okosun, a midwife tutor at the School of Midwifery, St. Camillus Hospital, Uromi, Edo State, still has her fate hanging in the balance after being accused of aiding examination malpractices. She was alleged to have sent a text message containing the answers to some examination questions to a final year student, Aimuhi Gift during the latter’s final year examination. Despite the tears that poured out from her eyes as she continued to maintain her innocence, the tribunal went ahead without any distraction.
After hearing the case against Mrs. Okosun, the tribunal adjourned sitting to a date which it said it will communicate to the accused.
The legal adviser to the tribunal, Adeleke Agbola, while stating the functions of the tribunal, said it was established to discipline nurses and midwives throughout Nigeria. “Over the years, members of the public have been raising a .lot of complaints about the performance or non-performance of nurses and midwives. Some of them reportedly treated their patients shabbily while others have engaged in the performance of duties beyond their competence and the Nursing and Midwifery profession has some codes and ethics.
“The tribunal also has a standard and when professionals go against the standards, the tribunal determines whether the professional can continue to remain in the practice or not,” he said, emphasising that the tribunal makes decisions as to whether a person has done something that is so infamous that he should stop parading himself as a professional.
He explained that the tribunal is not a court of law, but a self-regulating machinery. “It is not a criminal prosecution, but it has serious consequences because the tribunal has the power to de-register a person as a nurse or midwife, to suspend that person or to even impose fine where appropriate.
“We say it is not a prosecution because it is not a criminal court where you can send a person to jail, but to say a person is not fit for the profession and this is a very serious issue because it strikes at the working life of the person.
“The seriousness of the tribunal will further embolden the members of the public to come forward. They cannot just sit down in their houses complaining about the performance of the nurses and midwives. If they can document their cases and go through the channel, those people that are found wanting would be punished,” he added.
On the late establishment of the tribunal, he said it had to do with government policies and stability. He said the Council is a legal body and the members are appointed by the Federal Government and that until councils are constituted, one cannot talk about discipline since it is out of the members of the Council that the members of the tribunal are selected.
He said: “Sometimes, you are aware that some governments just refuse to constitute boards of professional bodies and this is a setback. But now that we have started, it would continue. Where members of the public have genuine cases, they should come up with their petitions and I can assure them that the petitions would be treated no matter whose ox is gored.”
Rebecca Aikhomu, the Tribunal Chairperson, said the tribunal is to fight against indiscipline in the nursing profession. “We are dealing with human lives and as such cannot entertain indiscipline. If there is any misconduct, we can’t sweep it under the carpet since it would serve as a deterrent to those who may want to do things any how.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a pat on the back for a job well done. It is always complaints that nurses are bad. It is not true. I’m not denying that we have some bad eggs. It is like that in every profession. We have always fought against indiscipline, but it is just that we did not have the legal backing then as we now have,” she lamented.
Explaining further, she said the Nursing and Midwifery Council is a regulatory body and a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Health charged with the responsibility of regulating nursing education and practice in all ramifications in the entire country, adding that a very important aspect of the functions of the council is to maintain discipline in the profession.
“We have found out that to maintain discipline, it is very important that the Nursing and Midwife Tribunal should be operational. This is the first time we are meeting and the aim of the tribunal is to look at any case that is referred to it by the general public. “If any member of the public feels that he has not been properly treated or has any allegation against any nurse or midwife, that member of the public has the right to report the case, then we would look at it objectively, give the nurse the opportunity to defend herself and the members of the tribunal would now find out if a case of misconduct or indiscipline has been established and then appropriate actions would be taken.
“If any member of the public has any complaint, he or she should please forward it to the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria and we will definitely look at the allegation and make sure that adequate sanction is meted out to the erring officer,” she advised.