Nurse laments working for government, narrates how she goes extra mile for more income

Esther Gacheru does not regret being a nurse. She regrets being a nurse working in a National Government owned facility.

“Since 2009, I have been in Job Group K. I started as a certificate nurse, I went back to school, paid my own fees, but I am still in Job Group K with my diploma. Is that really motivating?” she poses.

A nurse in Job Group K makes at most Sh41,500. Her calculation was that once she arms herself with a diploma, then her salary will shoot to at least Sh55,000 and probably Sh65,000 by the time she will be retiring.

“Our colleagues in the counties have moved two and even three job groups ahead at M and N and some of them joined the service just the other day,” she says.

Gacheru, who works at Mathari Mental Hospital in Nairobi, is among the approximate 300 nurses employed directly under the Government. There are about 168 nurses in Mathari.

Mathari, which is the country’s only government run psychiatry facility, is yet to be made a fully-fledged state parastatal like Kenyatta National hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.

This move, has crippled operations at the facility, and the Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki revealed recently that the hospital needs up to Sh1 billion to bring it back to life.

If it was not for her pension, Gacheru would have chosen to work for a private facility.

“Nairobi Hospital, Avenue and Aga Khan pay nurses so well,” she says.

It is these private facilities that have become solace for Gacheru and some of her colleagues. To make ends meet, she says, she sacrifices her off hours, days and leaves to work in some of these private facilities as locum.

Though she would love to serve patients at Mathari even when she is off, the Government will not pay her a dime.

A locum nurse (or personnel) is one that is temporarily available to work in place of the main staff or whenever need arises.

In such a scenario, the hospitals do not designate the nurse.

“You will help a woman give birth in the maternity, transfer her to the ward and still go to outpatient to admit patients. For all that work, at the end of the day you are given Sh1,000 or Sh2,000,” she says.

Gacheru says she knows of friends who deal with second hand clothes.

She says in her early days, which she admits were tough, they were forced to wash patients with bare hands without gloves, but people then appreciated nurses.

Nurses are currently on strike demanding for the implementation of a 2017 agreement that awarded them an increase in their Nursing and uniform allowance.

The Sh30,000 increment in total was supposed to be effected in starting June 2018 by adding them Sh5,000 on top of their Sh10,000 uniform allowance and Sh3,000 in addition to the current Sh20,000 nursing service allowance.

Gacheru says a nurse’s blouse costs Sh1,500 and the skirt Sh2,000.

In the 2016 Salaries and Remuneration Commission(SRC) job evaluation exercise, nurses were categorised as semi-skilled personnel on job group B5 which caused an uproar.

The Kenya National Union of Nurses(Knun) then said the commission has degraded their importance in providing close to 80 per cent of health services in facilities.

"No doctor can operate without a nurse. They will see a patient and walk away after prescribing medicine, basically, a hospital cannot operate without a nurse,” she says. 

Statistics by SRC show that there are 1,224 nurses working under National Government while the Knun claims there are just about 300.

In counties, the number according to SRC is 24,373. To pay all these nurses the said allowances, it will cost Sh3.4 billion.

However, SRC chair Lyn Mengich said it would be against public service rules to give nurses the allowances and leave other health cadres, which means the state will spend an additional Sh2.5 billion.

This is money, she said, both the Government and counties do not have.

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