No more room for talks, Kagwe tells striking doctors
The National government and the 47 County governments appeared to shut doors for further negotiations with the healthcare workers yesterday even as their countrywide strike continued to bite, leaving thousands of patients in more pain.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and Council of Governors Labour Committee chairman and Kisii Governor James Ongwae said the two levels of government had exhausted all avenues for negotiations with the striking workers.
Kagwe denied health services had been paralysed across the country owing to the strike even as spot check by People Daily revealed thousands of patients were being turned away from healthcare facilities because there were no doctors and nurses to attend to them.
“Our officers are on the ground and we have evidence health workers in all national referral hospitals and other public health facilities are going on with their work,” he added.
He said it was sad health workers are on strike during a pandemic. “I have done my research, and I have learnt that it is only in Kenya where health workers are on strike during a time when they are needed most.”
Ongwae said the issues unions representing health workers are raising have been well canvassed in various meetings with them and the two levels of government.
“I can stand here and say that for the last four years, we have been in constant negotiation with health workers and the benefits through the meetings are not small.
The two levels of government have therefore done their best. We urge those health workers who have not gone on strike not to do so,” he said at Afya House.
But even as they spoke, it emerged that most government hospitals may soon not be able to provide patients with life-saving surgery and urgent medical care due to the ongoing nationwide strike.
Before the announcement of an industrial action on Monday, many hospitals were manned by doctors after the other healthcare practitioners went on strike.
With Monday’s action, services in most health facilities in the country now face closure due to the absence of healthcare workers.
A spot check in Kiambu, Muranga, Uasin Gishu, Nyamira, Kakamega, Kisii and Nakuru counties revealed minimal to zero activities in government hospitals.
There are now empty waiting benches, wards and corridors in the health facilities as doctors made good their threats to paralyse operations.
In Kiambu County, doctors joined their colleagues in the strike protesting inadequate insurance benefits and lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while treating Covid-19 patients.
Patients who visited various facilities among them Thika Level Five, Igegania Level Four and Gatundu District Hospital were turned away. Families with critical patients were forced to rush their loved ones to private facilities where an influx of patients was witnessed as at yesterday.
Health workers who spoke on condition of anonymity vowed not to resume work until the government heeds to their grievances. “We have closed doors and are not intending to resume duties. We cannot sacrifice our lives any further for a less concerned government,” the doctor said.
They remained adamant even as governor James Nyoro threatened to fire all doctors employed by his government on contractual basis if they fail to resume duties.
Nyoro maintained that the health challenge was not with devolved governments but the national government that has failed to release funds to the counties for three months now.
“If you strike and you are a doctor on contract, we will withdraw your services, you cannot hold us hostage,” he said in Gatundu.
However, the county boss promised other county workers that his government had devised a mechanism that will see them paid by the end of this week.
“Covid-19 has shaken the revenues we collect as a county interfering with many of our programmes, but we will get over this,” he said.
Keep off work
In Uasin Gishu, Nandi and Elgeyo Marakwet counties, residents have been forced to seek services in private hospitals.
The healthcare workers in the three counties insisted that they would not return to work until their demands were fully addressed.
Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) branch Uasin Gishu chairman Francis Chepkwony asked members to remain put and keep off work.
“There are no services in all public hospitals across the county, we are not relenting in our quest to get promotions,” said Chepkwony.
In Elgeyo Marakwet, KNUN Secretary-General Benson Biwott said: “We will stay at home until our demands are met”.
Biwott further added that welfare of healthcare workers was key in promoting quality and affordable healthcare services in the country. The union wants the county of Elgeyo Marakwet to promote nurses on contract and implement a health risk allowance of Sh 30,000 for staff.
Nandi county branch secretary Jane Chelimo said they had a meeting with the county government, which was not fruitful. “The county government is taking us in circles, we have had meetings, but were not fruitful. Whatever they want us to sign does not meet our demands.”
She added that there are nurses who have not received their salaries from July, with a number of them dating back to last year.
The situation remained the same in Nyamira county as patients continued to suffer as the doctors, clinicians and nurses’ strike continued to bite.
Personnel present in major hospitals within the county were private guards and the administrators, revealing the extent of damage the strike had caused.
The medics who addressed the press in Keroka and Manga health facilities said that they will only resume duty after their demands have been met. Nyamira KMPDU branch chair Dr Lameck Omweri vowed that no threats and intimidation could force them to call off the strike.
In Nakuru County there has been concern over the increase in purchase of drugs Over-the-Counter (OTC).
In the past three weeks, residents have been flocking chemists for drugs as services across government hospitals remained paralysed.
Operators in a number of chemists within Nakuru Town revealed that since the strike began there had been an influx of customers seeking various drugs. While seeking anonymity the dealers said they noted that despite making a boom in business a number of customers had no idea what they were buying.
“We have been keen on the customers visiting, and I can tell you a number of them are in pain,” said one of the operators.
Reporting by Emmanuel Masinde, Wangari Njuguna, Roy Lumbe, Mathew Ndung’u and Evans Nyakundi