The nurses’ strike enters its fourth month next week, a significant period given the monumental and critical task this workforce plays both for the economy on the one hand and the society’s well-being and health on the other.
Over this time, most public hospitals have been closed and the few open ones are running emergency services only administered by a skeleton staff of a few doctors and clinical officers until last week. The latter group has since also gone on strike, meaning only doctors are on duty in public hospitals currently.
The absence of clinical officers — who usually handle the filter clinics at outpatient units, carry outward procedures and perform procedures in sub-specialised basic clinics like on Ophthalmology and Ear Nose and Throat — means all these services will now grind to a halt.
However, it is the absence of clinical officer anaesthetists —who form the bulk of anaesthesia staff — that will be felt most.
Without them, emergency surgeries will slowly grind to a halt. The critical observation during health workers’ strikes is that most mortalities occur from non-intervention of surgical emergency cases.
These are handled exclusively by doctors and clinical officers to a small extent.
There is also an attendant side to the strike, ambulance drivers now have to do extra duties as almost every case is a referral to a private facility. With most public hospitals having two or three ambulances and even fewer drivers, it is a daunting task.
One driver confided that the average distance covered in a week is close to 1,500km with little rest time. Now that the political embers are cooling down, especially in counties with uncontested governorships, the first agenda many of us hope for is to solve this festering issue.
A major handicap towards resolution of the nurses’ strike is that different medical cadres going on strike individually allows for a semblance of activity going on.
This has deluded the public and county officials that there is no crisis whereas in reality things are at a standstill.
The national government having turned deaf or showing little concern for the nurses’ pleas, it is time all health stakeholders took up the cause as well.
The elephant in the room is that counties are under-funded. Public healthcare is a social service and having well motivated staff is a first step in delivering this.
What is therefore needed is unified demand for increased allocation of funds to counties so that they can hire adequate health personnel and remunerate them well.
As it stands we cannot achieve much without getting this roadblock out of the way.
Correction: In my article a fortnight ago I indicated that Metropolitan Hospital had acquired Ladnan Hospital. However, the correct position is that the deal involved a merger of both facilities.