By Reuben Mwambingu and Eric Juma
Patients across the country continued to suffer as clinical officers and nurses kept away from hospitals yesterday, with the situation likely to worsen today, if doctors from private hospitals make good their threat to join the strike in solidarity with fired colleagues.
The move comes at a time when private hospitals have reported a surge in the number of patients – some transferring from public facilities in the past month – especially those requiring Intensive Care Unit services.
More than 300 doctors convened a high-profile meeting bringing together the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), Kenya Medical Association (KMA), Kenya Dental Association (KDA), Kenya Pharmaceutical Association (KPA) and doctors from the private sector, where they resolved to rope in the private sector starting today, if theirgrievances are not settled.
“Most private hospitals have seen a surge of patients with various complications from public hospitals and ICUs are getting overwhelmed,” explained KMA, Mombasa branch Secretary General Dr Matagaro Omae.
Mombasa County acting county health executive Godfrey Nato said the regional health centres constitute 80 per cent of private hospitals and 20 per cent public hospitals.
On Sunday, Mombasa county government said it has no money to pay the striking medics, a move that could likely escalate the situation.
The county maintained it is financially strained and that it can’t meet the workers’ demands.
It came after the county government sacked 86 doctors among them the KMPDU secretary-general Chibanzi Mwachonda on Tuesday.
“We have agreed if the doctors are not reinstated and fail to honour the return-to-work formula signed on October 2, on Monday, the doctors in the private sector will join in because this is not about Mombasa alone,” Mwachonda said in Mombasa warning that they will be no going back.
“This is just but the beginning. If county governments will not consider our issues, then we will ensure the private sector joins us. Those are the bare minimums.”
He further warned that the next course of action will be extra-intense to “end the trend of mistreatment of the health sector”.
“So if you think you are safe because you have access to a private hospital where we treat you, we will not treat you so that you also feel the pinch of the common mwananchi.
That way, you will come to the table and resolve the matter that we have put forth as a union.
Access to healthcare is a right, the power to collective bargaining and engaging in industrial action is a constitution right, so firing of doctors because they have engaged in a constitutional right will not be tolerated,” the KMPDU chief said yesterday.
KMA Coast Division chair Ibrahim Matende said as a family of doctors, it is very difficult when you have “one group affected and another is left out. We agree as a family that this situation is affecting both of us.”
A letter signed by Mombasa County public service board secretary and CEO Jeizan Faruk and copied to the Health CEC, County secretary and chief officer on January 5, communicated the dismissal of the medics on account of gross misconduct.
“Following the correspondences shared between the department of Health and the board on the doctors strike, the board, hereby conveys its decision vide special board meeting held on January 5 that all the doctors who have refused to return to work be dismissed,” the letter stated.
According to Faruk, the doctors’ refusal to return to work are justifiable grounds, in law, for dismissal.
“We have enclosed their letters and advance copies have been shared to the said doctors via email.
Kindly ensure the above doctors received their letters and immediately hand over to their supervisors.
Update us on the progress of the dissemination of the letters, hand over and staff return for each of the facilities.”
But KMPDU leadership has since termed the dismissal illegal, saying it is within the constitutional rights for doctors and every Kenya to demand what is rightfully theirs.
In Kisumu, acting county Health Chief officer Eunice Fwaya urged health facilities managers not to embrace the strike as that would put more lives in danger.
“We want to appeal to health in charge to respond to the patients’ distresses at various hospitals during the ongoing medical strike. Patients’ safety remains doctors’ primary concern,” said Fwaya.
Already lab technicians and nurses are boycotting work after the government failed to address their grievances while doctors and clinical officers have threatened to return to the streets after county governments developed cold feet in implementing a deal that ended their recent strike.
That some governors have started firing some workers has made the situation worse.