Crisis looms as clinicians strike picks pace

Patients in long wait at  Deserted Coast Provincial and Referral Hospital in Mombasa on April 1, 2024. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

Patients were dealt a significant blow yesterday after clinicians made good on their threat to down tools. Major hospitals across the 47 counties were affected by the clinical officers’ strike.

At the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital in Mombasa, beds were empty yesterday. Health officers said the strike has worsened the situation caused by the ongoing doctors’ strike.

Only a handful of health workers and interns were going about their duties. One of the health workers, who did not wish to be named, told The Standard the real impact of the strike would be felt starting today.

“The doctors’ strike paralysed operations, but the worst is yet to come. We expect the full impact of the clinical officers’ strike today,” she said. The health workers said they were on standby to handle only emergency cases as operation ground to a near halt.

But in Taita Taveta County, dozens of clinical officers, who are currently managing public health facilities in the absence of striking doctors, were busy serving patients.

“We are on duty today serving patients. Only the laboratories and pharmacies were not open yesterday as the Easter season comes to an end. The two departments will, however, open tomorrow,” said a clinical officer at the Wundanyi Health Centre.

“Although our clinical officers are members of the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (Kuco), they have no issue to make us go on strike,” she said.

County Chief Officer for Health Rose Mkamburi confirmed that all clinical officers reported to duty yesterday morning. However, the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (Kuco) branch chairman, Ali Mumbo, said there are still pending thorny issues affecting his members.

“I am currently out of the county, but we have our concerns. I will be in the county later today and I will do my groundwork before I talk to the press on the status of the ongoing strike,” he said.

Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir and his Kilifi counterpart Gideon Mung’aro urged medical officers to resume duty, saying the counties have been committed to paying their salaries on time.

Nassir said it was wrong for doctors to deny patients service even as the county government paid their dues and statutory deductions on time.

National government

“Even if the doctors have issues with the national government, they have no right to deny patients services after being paid by county governments,” Nassir said.

Mung’aro threatened to take action against striking health workers, saying he has paid them and bought enough medicine.

“The county government does not owe the health workers any money. We have paid and also bought enough medicines and therefore there is no point for them to join strikes. I will take stern action if a single patient dies,” he said.

Outpatient services at Nyeri County Referral Hospital came to a standstill as clinicians and doctors failed to show up. The seats in the outpatient wings remained empty as patients sought services in private hospitals.

A handful of nurses on duty and supporting staff were the only personnel at the facility during a spot check of the status at the hospital by The Standard yesterday.

A nurse, who sought anonymity, said that after the announcement that the clinical officers would be going on strike, they did not report to the hospital on Easter Monday.

She said the office of the medical superintendent was also closed since it was a holiday. She also acknowledged that the superintendent would respond in case of any emergency.

At Mt Kenya Hospital, no services were offered in the outpatient wing, although staff attributed the empty seats to the fact that it was a holiday.

John Murage and his four-month-pregnant wife were the only patients at the hospital for prenatal care, but there was no one to attend to them.

Murage said he was not aware public hospitals were not offering services and said that they would go to a private hospital. 

In Muranga County, clinicians reported to duty in the respective stations, although some hinted that reporting on duty was a strategy to check on how the strike was taking shape in other parts of the country.

“We are on duty today checking on the situation. If it is successful, we will join our colleagues,” said a senior clinician from Maragua sub-county.

Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Muranga Chapter Chairperson Samuel Wangai said the strike will take effect from midnight.

Wangai said Monday being a holiday was not the best way to kick off the strike and deliver results.

“I have issued a communication to the members to down their tools as of Tuesday,” said Wangai.

In Western, the clinicians’ strike commenced at a slow pace but disrupted services at many public health facilities.

There were minimal activities at Kakamega County General Hospital and Vihiga County Referral Hospital at Mbale.

In Busia and Bungoma counties, clinical officers were yet to join the striking doctors, with officials stating that their full-blown strike will kick off Today (Tuesday).

Coughing daughter

In Trans Nzoia, Margarita Wekesa, a 37-year-old mother, travelled from Kolongolo village with her coughing two-year-old daughter, only to be turned away due to the absence of clinical officers at a local hospital.

“I have no money for private hospitals,” Wekesa said, highlighting the financial strain the strike places on low-income families.

In Migori County, patients avoided visiting public hospitals for fear of not getting healthcare services.

A spot check at Migori County Referral Hospital showed an almost deserted facility as a minimal number of patients sought services at the facility.

The outpatient department had only a handful of people queuing and waiting for services.

The hospital’s Medical Superintendent Dr Ian Omuom told The Standard on the phone that they were trying to assess the situation. “We are still mobilising for medical personnel.”

Migori County Secretary Oscar Olima on 1 April said they had held a dialogue with clinical officers last week. “Through dialogue and engagement, our clinical officers withdrew notice and are at work,” he said.

The clinical officers’ union leadership had issued a demand letter two weeks ago where they wanted issues which include CBA, NHIF comprehensive cover for members, arrears, promotions and re-designation addressed.

On Thursday last week, the County Secretary had assured residents that health services would be offered uninterrupted after a meeting with the clinical officers.

In Kisii, there were few activities at the County Referral Hospital as Doctors and Clinic Officers kept off from work.

However, medics on contractual terms reported to work even as patients sought service from private health facilities.

Several private hospitals received an unusual number of patients Monday morning.

Clinical officers in Homa Bay County also downed their tools to join their national office in the strike.

The Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) in Homa Bay County led by Felix Ouko said they downed their tools to push the national government to listen to their grievances.

“We want to have our own CBA. We are also pushing for ratification of our scheme of service which stipulates how we should be promoted and other aspects of professional progression,” Ouko said.

Ouko said their members will not resume work until their national office calls off the strike based on the government’s response.

At Nakuru County Referral and Teaching Hospital, there were minimal activities with most of the healthcare workers keeping off the facility.

[Reporting by Julius Chepkwony, Benard Lusigi, Patrick Beja, Renson Mnyamwezi, Anne Atieno, James Omoro, Eric Abuga, Purity Mwangi, Boniface Gikandi, James Murimi and Jane Mugambi]

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