The just-ended strike at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) is symptomatic of the rot and neglect of our health facilities. The healthcare workers were demanding higher pay and better working conditions, especially in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Coming at a time Covid-19 has claimed some 700 lives and infected some 38,000 people, the strike was most unfortunate.
At the centre of the row is the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), which is supposed to approve a new pay structure that KNH and the commission promised the workers during the onset of Covid-19. While SRC argues it re-evaluated jobs at KNH, it did not find reason to increase the workers’ pay. The hospital's union accuses the SRC of failing to implement a clause made in 2012 that made KNH a parastatal and increased the pay grade for all employees. A long-term solution should be found.
The pain and tears witnessed at KNH are replicated across the country where hospitals suffer a severe shortage of healthcare workers in all cadres and county governments cannot hire more because of budgetary constraints. Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the soft underbelly of our healthcare system, and we are fortunate that the virus has not devastated majority of our rural areas.
Since 2013, when the health function was devolved, there have been numerous strikes among nurses, doctors, clinicians and other health workers in more than 20 counties. Just this week, nurses in Makueni County have given a 14-day ultimatum overpay. They complain that they are overworked and underpaid.
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While the county governments can put the blame on the Treasury and argue their allocation is inadequate, it is apparent that most of them lack imagination or will to improve healthcare. The counties have been handling the docket for eight years now. Are they incapable of handling the function? Should the docket be returned to the national government?
That aside, there was a proposal to form a Health Service Commission that would to handle most of the administrative duties for healthcare facilities. It was to confirm, promote and review terms and conditions of service, training and qualifications of all health workers across the country. What happened to that proposal? It is time to revisit that plan. We should do everything to give all health workers decent pay. That is the only way to avert needless deaths caused by recurrent work boycotts by health workers.