In this interview with Journalists, the Chairman, Assembly of Healthcare Professionals Association (AHPA), DR. GODSWIL OKARA, calls for mutual respect rather than competition among health workers. Laide Akinboade was there for DAILY ASSET
What is the difference between a pathologist and a medical laboratory scientist?
It is team work. Medical science or what you call healthcare practice is team work involving a multiplicity of professions including pathologists, medical laboratory scientists, clinical scientists, physicians and many others. It is a question of respecting the skill of each other; that is what it is in the western world where medical practice originated. When you go there, all these superiority contest does not arise, everybody is busy doing their thing the best they know how to. It is here that people carry titles on their heads. Nobody cares what you are and what your profession is, all what matters is what you can bring to the table – your skill and the knowledge you have upstairs. But when you come here, everybody is claiming I am this and that. That is the undoing of our system.
A pathologist is a physician. Physicians are trained to attend to patients. Pathologists are supposed to run their specialty clinics and attend to their patients that have abnormalities related to their specialty. But what you see in Nigeria is that they want to leave their job as physicians to struggle with the medical laboratory scientists over sample testing in the laboratory. You don’t see this outside the borders of our country.
Who takes the responsibility when there is any wrong doing in the medical laboratory?
For somebody to be licensed, it means the original authority derived from law to perform a specified task. A medical laboratory scientist is licensed under the Medical Laboratory Science Council Law of Nigeria.
Before the advent of Medical Laboratory Science Council Law of 2003, it was Institute of Medical Laboratory Technology of Nigeria Decree 56 of 1968, that made elaborate provisions of the responsibilities, duties and rights, privileges and liabilities of a medical laboratory technologist or medical laboratory scientist under the law.
A pathologist does not take responsibility for what a medical laboratory scientist does. If that were so, there would be no need to license the medical laboratory scientists under the law. It is complete fallacy for anybody to say that a medical laboratory scientist cannot appear before the court or be liable for his work. That is complete fallacy. I have been a member of the Medical Laboratory Science Council Board, there is a disciplinary committee as enshrined in the law. The disciplinary committee works on cases of either negligence or malpractice and complaints by members of the public against a registered licensed medical laboratory scientist.
A panel is set up, the panel investigates the allegation and the report of the panel goes to the disciplinary panel and the disciplinary panel, by the law, has the status of the Court of Appeal. Any decision taken by the disciplinary panel against any medical laboratory scientist can only be challenged at the Supreme Court of Nigeria. That is to show you what the law has put in place for the practice of the profession. Unfortunately, some people arrogate to themselves the powers above the law of Nigeria. They talk and behave as if they live in the moon and not subject to the laws of Nigeria. It is really unbecoming for somebody that calls himself an educated person to be making outlandish and bogus statements that amount to insulting and denigrating the laws of Nigeria. I read in one of the publications where, to be specific, Dr Kenneth Ireagbu, made very insulting statements against the Nigeria judiciary. It is really unbecoming of an educated person. The law is there to checkmate people’s conduct to avoid excesses. Nobody is above the law. But what you see in Nigeria is that the court of law will give a judgment, an individual that calls himself a medical doctor will claim to know more than the judiciary and be insulting the legislature, including the National Council on Establishment that is charged with the statutory function of bringing schemes of service for the orderly conduct of government business.
It is madness to say the least. What he is advocating is complete anarchy in the system. A situation where a medical doctor will say that the judiciary knows nothing about healthcare practice, it is only what he said that should reign in the health sector, that is unleashing the rule of the jungle in the healthcare sector and environment. Such excesses and irrationality must be checkmated. The law court should rise to the occasion and charge people for contempt and commit them to prison until they purge themselves. That is the way to ensure sanity in the system because every human being’s right ends where another person’s right begins.
Do you share the views that power tussle over who should be in charge of medical laboratory practice is the cause of wrong diagnosis in the health sector?
Science is all about empirical proof and data. People can sit in their little corners, wake up with a dream and begin to make bogus, unsubstantiated and outlandish statements. Tell people as professionals, present the data, the facts, the experiment you carried to arrive at the conclusion. In science we talk about the method, the observation made, the inference and the conclusion drawn from the inference. Science is different from faith.
How do we get harmony in the medical laboratory sector?
Harmony comes by mutual respect. You respect me, I respect you. You respect the law that regulates my practice, I will respect the law that regulates your practice. That way, there will be harmony. Medical practice did not originate from Nigeria. We should play according to the rule and practice it the way it is being practiced, if we want the type of result they are getting there. If you go to the UK that colonised Nigeria, you will see that all this rivalry is not there. Our colleagues are in charge of the laboratory, they run laboratories, sign results from the laboratory and take responsibility under the law. The same thing is what is envisaged by this Medical Laboratory Science Council Act. But what you see is that some pathologists will not want to restrict themselves to what they are supposed to be doing according to their training and legal regulation. Somebody is saying that the regulation made by his Council supercedes the law made by the Nigerian legislature. It is unfortunate.