"You are insensitive," Waiguru tells doctors after skipping meeting

Head of Public Service Felix Koskei (centre) with Health CS Susan Nakhumicha (left) and Council of Governors Chairperson Anne Waiguru at KICC, Nairobi on April 23, 2024. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

From last week Thursday, April 18, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists, and Dentists Union (KMPDU) and the government have been engaged in discussions following a court-mandated meeting aimed at resolving the ongoing doctors’ strike.

The meeting, overseen by a judge, witnessed both parties committing to unconditional dialogue, signaling a potential resolution to the crisis in the public health sector.

By Sunday morning, the two sides had reached an agreement and were expected to finalize the deal in the afternoon, subsequently submitting it to court. This agreement would have marked the end of the doctors’ strike, now entering its second month.

But in a twist of events, doctors, represented by their union, failed to attend the Monday meeting held at the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC), citing engagement in discussions regarding the agreement slated for signing.

Council of Governors Chair, Anne Waiguru has now criticized the Union’s absence on Monday, labeling it disrespectful not only to the authorities and the court but also insensitive to Kenyans relying on health services.

Waiguru stated that the County governments had conceded to most demands raised by the doctors, save for their request for car loans and mortgages, deemed “non-priority amid economic challenges.”

She outlined agreements reached between County governments and the Union, including the provision of medical covers, hiring of doctors on an availability basis, payment of pending salaries, and facilitation of doctors for post-graduate studies.

According to Waiguru, these commitments were to be implemented immediately upon signing, with doctors expected to resume work within 24 hours.

“It was agreed that the union shall immediately call off the strike and the union members participating on the strike shall immediately go back to work but not later than within 24 hours of executing this deed. This agreement was initialized and was to be adopted as consent to be filed in court,” said the COG Chairperson.

“The parties were to sign the deed yesterday at a meeting scheduled for 2 pm. However, we waited patiently and we were informed the union leaders were held up in a meeting to deliberate on the matter. It is most unfortunate that the doctors have deliberately refused, ignored and the courtesy extended to them…The doctors are therefore insensitive to the suffering and plight of Kenyans in dire need of health services.”

Reiterating her sentiments, Health CS Susan Nakhumicha affirmed that the Ministry had addressed eighteen (18) out of nineteen (19) issues raised by the union, including disbursing funds Sh3.5 billion to settle salary arrears from 2017 to June 2024 and allocating funds for to pay interns.

The CS explained that the half issue remained unresolved due to an ongoing court case, awaiting judgment.

Expressing disappointment, Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria said that the government would withhold dues owed to KMPDU until the strike was called off, citing the union’s failure to honor the court order and attend the meeting.

Shortly after the briefing attended by the Head of Public Service Felix Koskei, CoG Chair Anne Waiguru, Health, Labour and Public Service Cabinet Secretaries, KMPDU Secretary-General Davji Atellah responded, suggesting the government can “take back” the 18 demands they had agreed on, but the payment of interns was non-negotiable. 

The response posted on X on Tuesday, April 23, has since been deleted.

KMPDU Secretary-General Davji Atellah's response to the Council of Governors, posted on X. [Screengrab]

The doctors have yet to comment on the developments or government statements regarding the strike and negotiations.

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