Patient dies as nurses begin strike

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Kenya Union of Clinical Officers chair Peterson Wachira addresses the media at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, yesterday. He declared a national strike by all clinical officers until the government meets their demands. Photo/PD/BENARD ORWONGO

Morrison Njeru could be the first victim of the strike by medical workers after he succumbed to his illness yesterday at Embu Level Five hospital.

Njeru had been referred to the hospital from a private facility but there were no medics to attend to him.

The situation is getting dire by the minute as health services in a number of public hospitals across the country were yesterday paralysed after clinical officers and nurses’ unions made good their threat to go on strike.

Hundreds of patients were turned away in major hospitals across the country as the nurses stayed away protesting poor working remuneration and working conditions. 

In Busia, the Medical Superintendent Dr Namudala Emukule revealed services in all sections, including maternity wing, wards, pharmacy among others were on a total standstill.

He noted that casual workers also downed their tools affecting services in other sections like the kitchen and laundry section. 

Namudala added that they have requested families and relatives with patients at the facility who have the ability to transfer them to do so. 

“We will not be able to offer any services to patients without the support of clinical officers and nurses.” 

At the Nakuru Level Five Hospital, patients were forced to seek alternative services in private facilities as the strike continued to bite.

A spot check at the hospital yesterday revealed a number of services had been grounded with sources inside the facility revealing that nothing was going on. 

According to the Hospital’s Medical Superintendent Joseph Mburu they had been forced to scale down operations at the facility. 

He noted that since the announcement, the nurses have been on a go-slow adding that they are unable to offer a number of critical services. “We hope things will go back to normal,” said Mburu. 

Patients seeking admissions at the hospital were being turned away with a number revealing that the situation was dire. 

James Kimani, a boda boda rider said he received a call from the hospital to pick up his ailing wife. 

“We were not assisted, officials told us nurses were on strike and there was nothing they could do.”

The situation was the same in Kisumu as county health facilities were grounded as most of the healthcare workers stayed away from work stations. 

Kenya National Union of Nurses Kisumu branch secretary Maurice Opetu said their strike officially began yesterday following the expiry of the fourteen days strike notice which elapsed on December 6.

He said health workers including clinical officers and nurses will not report to work until all their demands are fully met. 

Opetu noted that some of their grievances are long overdue and hence they want lasting solutions. 

“Our strike has officially commenced. Our issues are legitimate and we will listen to nothing sort of addressing them,” Opetu said. 

In Mombasa, the nurses have been on a go-slow for the last four weeks demanding remittance of the four months’ statutory deductions by the county government. 

Only contracted nurses have been redistributed within respective departments to mitigate the situation that has seen patients shift to seek alternative facilities. 

A survey at the Coast General Teaching and Referral hospital established normal operations were partly operational. 

Sources said health workers on contract, alongside locum nurses, and interns had taken over the roles of striking nurses. 

Martha Kazungu said there were no hitches as was perceived at the Coast General Hospital adding that the outpatient and emergency operations were ongoing well.

“My mother is admitted at the hospital and is progressing well. We have been attended to by medics and there is no problem.”

The situation was the same in Kiambu as services went on normally despite nurse’s strike threats.

At the Thika Level five hospital, normal operations took place with some of the nurses adopting a wait-and-see attitude to the strike calls. “I was served normally without any challenges.

The only hitch I encountered was delay since patients were very many,” Joy Muthoni, a patient said. 

Further directions

A section of the nurses who sought anonymity over fears of victimisation however said they were waiting for directives from their national union leaders as they could not start striking directly without clear directives. 

Igegania Level Four Hospital in Gatundu North alongside other facilities in Juja and Ruiru Sub Counties painted a similar picture with all the nurses expected to be on duty found working without hitches. 

“Services are normal here and we have no challenges whatsoever. We have not started striking and we don’t hope to get there unless the government fails to heed to our demands,” a nurse at Igegania hospital said. 

At the Nyahururu County Referral hospital in Laikipia County, many health workers also reported to work. 

“For now, we will continue to offer services as we wait for further directions,” a nurse said. 

Yesterday, the officials made it clear that the issues are still intact and none of them has been addressed claiming they will mobilize all its members countrywide to ensure no operations is ongoing in health facilities until their demands were addressed. 

Kuco national chairman, Peterson Wachira, the Union’s secretary general George Gibore, and KNUN Nairobi branch spokesman, Boaz Onchari accused the government of lack of commitment to address the outstanding issues. 

“We have met here today to outline our roadmap to the strike. It is unfortunate that this government is not listening to us.

We have been demanding for provision of comprehensive health insurance; quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), isolation and treatment centers for health workers, pending payments, as well as fresh recruitment to address shortages. 

“However, it is clear that we are dealing with an unresponsive government. So, the only language they understand is when all services have been paralysed,” said Gibore. 

At Uhuru Park in Nairobi, a section of officials of the Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) and Kuco dug deeper on their demands, while across the hill at the 7th Floor of the NSFF Building, another group was busy negotiating with Simon Chelugui, the Labour Cabinet Secretary. 

Wachira, appealed to Kenyans to hold their government and county governments responsible for the interruption of services. 

He dismissed the recent announcement of Sh6.3 billion meant to be implemented by the National Hospital Insurance Fund as just an empty enticement by the State. 

So far 31 healthcare workers have been documented as fatalities due to Covid-19. 

In a statement to newsrooms, Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union Acting secretary general, Chibanzi Mwachonda said the strike had been suspended for 14 days to allow for dialogue.

He said if the issues are not resolved upon the lapse of the 14 days, the strike would commence on December 21. 

The announcement came after the National Advisory Council of the Union met for most of Sunday afternoon and deliberated upon the plight of the doctors and the planned strike. 

However, a spot check by People Daily in several hospitals revealed that a number of nurses were still in their work stations with select health centers reporting go-slows.  Reporting by George Kebaso, Henry Andanje, Roy Lumbe, Noven Owiti, Harrison Kivisu, Mathew Ndungu and David Macharia

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