Operations at Kenya’s three referral hospitals were paralysed on Sunday after doctors went on strike to press for the implementation of a return-to-work pact agreed with the government in December last year.
More than 400 doctors at Kenyatta National Hospital, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and Mathari Hospital downed their tools, saying the government had reneged on its promise to sponsor medics taking postgraduate studies and pay them allowances.
“We have suspended all our services at the facilities. The government has not contacted us so far,” said Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Acting secretary general Were Onyino.
However, doctors at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital later returned to work after the management agreed to pay the allowances. The union gave notice of the strike on August 13.
The union said the government had committed to pay doctors pursing Master’s degrees a gross allowance of Sh92,000 backdated back to December 2011.
The medics went on strike for 10 days in December last year to push for better remuneration and improved working conditions.
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The scholarships and stipend were part of the return-to-work formula in which the government also agreed to set up a task force to look into the physicians’ grievances.
According to patient accounts, activities at KNH, the country’s largest referral were at a standstill as doctors kept off work leaving consultants to attend to emergency only.
“The doctors work beyond the curriculum requirements yet they are not paid anything,” said Dr Boniface Chitayi, a unionist at KMPDU.
The task force chaired by Mr Kioko Musyimi, the secretary of administration at the Ministry of Public Health, recommended that the government compensate doctors for hours worked outside the curriculum requirements. It also said funding for postgraduate training scholarships should be increased.
It costs about Sh250,000 per year and an average of four years to complete a Master’s in medicine.
In 2011, the government allocated Sh200 million to fund doctor’s postgraduate studies.
KMPDU cited “unfair remuneration, excessive working hours, unacceptable working conditions, roadside transfers and stoppage of salaries and intimidation of doctors’ as the basis for the December 2011 industrial action.
In addition to poor pay, the doctors want the government to address shortage of equipment and manpower.
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In this year’s Budget, Finance minister Njeru Githae allocated Health Sh85 billion which includes funds to recruit 715 doctors who completed their internship in March and a further 200 medics to be employed from the market.
The number of physicians in public service is estimated at 3,000.