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It’s high time doctors resumed duty

By Peter Gathirimu | Updated Sat, January 7th 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3
A patient in a deserted ward at the main hospital after a strike by medical practitioners following failed negotiations between Health Union and Government. (Photo :Reuters)

The doctors’ strike is now in its second month. The doctors are demanding full implementation of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed in 2013. The agreement is laden with fundamental administrative and policy changes.

 In addition, the doctors are demanding a 300 per cent pay hike. One wonders why after 32 days, the doctors and their employers cannot find a solution to save millions of Kenyans from misery.Are the doctors’ demands rational and reasonable? Of course they are. The CBA stipulates a 40-hour work week. Many doctors work for more than 40 hours a week without compensation.

The Employment Act limits a work week to 40 hours. Doctors in public service work under very harsh conditions. Many hospital spaces are plainly unhygienic and medical equipment are at best archaic where available.

My experience in public service was horrible. You had to go an extra mile to do the right thing. The system was not supportive. For example, to prepare patients for operations, I had to prick them to obtain a blood sample, take the sample to the laboratory, ask the laboratory to look for appropriate blood to infuse into the patient should the need arise, and then I would be expected to collect the prepared blood in the morning before opening of the operating theatres. Yet there are other health professionals trained for all these tasks.

The CBA stipulates that doctors should get adequate ‘support staff’ and ‘medical equipment’. That cannot be too much to ask. There are also reports of harassment of doctors by the counties. Sadly, nay shamefully, most of this harassment is perpetrated by doctors in administrative positions. My understanding is that the National Government and the Council of Governors have no problem implementing the CBA as outlined above.

The bone of contention seems to be a 300 per cent pay increment demanded by doctors but apparently not set out in the CBA. This raises the question– is the doctors’ demand for a 300 per cent pay increment legitimate? The entry level pay for a medical officer in Kenya is Sh140,244, which the Government has reportedly offered to raise to Sh196,289, while agreeing to all other issues related to policy and administration. Is this too little or too much? Obviously, most Kenyans would balk at our calling this too little.

All over the world, society puts inordinate demands on doctors for their service. It appears that no society has managed to compensate doctors adequately. We must continue to encourage our elected financial managers to keep striving at improving conditions for doctors. At the same time, doctors must appreciate that no one can ever pay them enough for saving a life. We must strike a balance between the two positions – prudent financial management and appropriate compensation – with compassion being the overriding factor. Finally, it’s time we doctors returned to work.