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Patients at risk as nurses, doctors rivalry plays out

 Protesting Clinical Officers make their way to Parliament Buildings to air their grievances on December 14, 2020. [Emmanuel Mochoge, Standard]

Is there sibling rivalry between doctors and other healthcare workers?

The saying among medics that ‘doctors do the hard work, while nurses do the dirty work’ has found itself in the ongoing healthcare workers’ strike, which the Government is yet to solve.

It has become a case of two bulls fighting leaving the grass to suffer, with clinicians and nurses appearing to have been left out in the push to save patients from more suffering.

The sibling rivalry between doctors and other cadres of medical workers might go unnoticed to a patient and will only be brought to the surface if something goes wrong or when the medics decide to agitate for their welfare, like in the ongoing strike.

Clinicians and nurses, who started their strike on December 7, now claim doctors are being favoured. The claim is based on the meetings called by the National Assembly Health Committee and later the Departmental Health Committee (made up of both National Assembly and Senate) to discuss the plight of healthcare workers that seemed to deliberately leave out the nurses and clinical officers.

As a result, doctors on the night before the strike commenced suspended their industrial action “to give more room for talks”, leaving the other cadres in the cold.

Dr Were Onyino, the President of Kenya Medical Association (KMA) that champions for welfare of doctors, said while the suspension of the strike does not mean they (doctors) do not share the same grievances with other healthcare workers, it had an impact on their advocacy efforts.

 Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) Secretary-General Seth Panyako during a press conference organized by Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists' Union presser on shut down of services by county governments on September 13, 2020. [David Njaaga,Standard]

“We did a joint concession with all other healthcare workers only that the follow up meetings have been with doctors,” said Dr Onyino.

Doctors were the first to issue a 21-day strike notice on November 15 followed by clinical officers a week later, before nurses issued theirs a week to December 7.

However, on November 18 the National Assembly Health Committee chaired by Murang’a Woman Rep Sabina Chege only invited doctors. They were represented by the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU).

These meetings went on for the following weeks, with the last one held on December 10. All through, no representative of nurses or clinical officers was present.

“We were never invited,” said Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Secretary General George Gibore when The Standard inquired. “That is why I say we have been neglected.”

Two days before the December 10 meeting, The Standard asked National Assembly Health Committee Vice Chair Joshua Kutuny (Cherengany) why other cadres of healthcare workers have not been part of the previous two sessions.

“Doctors sent a petition, and so we invited them,” he said. “But in the next meeting (December 10), since the issues are the same with nurses and clinical officers, we have invited all of them.”

On December 10, however, the meeting went on without nurses and clinical officers, a matter Laikpia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi raised.

“What about other stakeholders in the health sector? Why are we here to speak to just one party?” he posed.

Kutuny, who was co-chaired the meeting with Kajiado Senator Ledama ole Kina, later said the resolutions made touching on provision of comprehensive medical cover, group life cover, personal protective equipment and payment of allowances will also benefit clinicians and nurses.

 Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Secretary General Chibanzi Mwachonda (left) with National Chairman Samuel Oroko during their meeting with National Assembly Health Committee. [David Njaaga,Standard]

“We have seen them talk to governors, we have seen them talk to other people they have never ever expressed interest to know why we are complaining, what are the challenges we face and what can be corrected,” lamented Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Chairman Peterson Wachira.

A nurse, who is also an official in a body that represents nurses, said even in leadership positions, their cadres are sidelined.

“Why should a medical superintendent of a hospital be a doctor? Nurses are the best managers. If you give a specialist doctor administrative roles you are wasting their expertise, but this is the norm. What should be done is have a nurse in charge and pay the doctor well for them to continue practising,” said the nurse.

Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary General Seth Panyako did not mince his words to express the discrimination nurses go through in favour of doctors.

“We will not suspend the strike like doctors did. In fact, the Ministry of Health should be called the ministry of doctors, as far as we are concerned one of the problems we have emanates from the doctors, they are enjoying,” said Panyako.

“When you go to Afya House every department is headed by a doctor so basically they are the only people in the health sector who have a collective bargaining agreement.”

Dr Onyino agrees that sibling rivalry between doctors and other healthcare workers exists but is quick to downplay the scope of this love-hate relationship.

“It is not big enough to cause chaos in the health sector,” he says. “So it does not mean we cannot focus and work on the same goal.”

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