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Striking doctors stay put as talks fail to reach deal on internship


 KMPDU secretary general Davji Bhimji Atellah (C) accompanied by other medical practitioners, addresses press on 18th March 2024 at Blue Violet Plaza in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

There is no end in sight in the row between doctors and the government over the internship saga.

Once again, a meeting called on Tuesday to resolve the impasse failed to reach a solution as the strike rages on.

The two sides failed to agree on when to have intern doctors posted.

Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Susan Nakhumicha committed to have the more than 3,000 interns posted by April 1 but doctors under the umbrella of Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union (KMPDU) demanded immediate posting.

“We will start posting all qualified graduate medical interns across the country from April 1st without discrimination,” said Nakhumicha.

She added: “The ministry has received interns of all backgrounds and will fulfill our obligation to deploy them”.

Nakhumicha said the National Treasury has committed to allocate Sh5.9 billion for the internship programme.

The CS said the government is committed to aligning the policy with Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

But KMPDU dismissed the promise, maintaining that the strike will continue until their issues are handled conclusively.

KMPDU Secretary General Davji Atellah accused the government of being non-committal in honouring its promises.

“That is a common narrative. They (government and ministry) have always promised without doing it. We are fully on strike,” said Dr Atellah.

Atellah said government has been promising to post interns from January.

“Despite previous assurances, graduate medical interns remain unposted.

“As we go about this strike, we do not want promises and commitments. We want outcomes for the doctors, for basic salary arrears that have not been paid for seven years, letters posting the interns as per the agreement in 2017,” said the doctors’ representative.

KMPDU is demanding posting of intern doctors, promotions, medical cover and payment of post-graduate fees.

Doctors are also demanding study leave, more so for doctors working in respective counties and at the ministry.

Demand by doctors, according to Atellah, is engraved in the 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that is yet to be actualised.

Signing of the CBA was after a prolonged nationwide doctors’ strike that took 100 days and resulted in arrest of KMPDU union leadership by then, led by Dr Ouma Oluga.

In the CBA, government committed to post intern doctors, employ more doctors, promote doctors, redesignate doctors and provide medical cover, among other demands.

But eight years later, the promise is yet to be honoured.

Posting of internship was among the agreement in the CBA.

Failure to reach an agreement between doctors and the government places Kenya Kwanza’s health agenda between a rock and a hard place.

In his agenda, President William Ruto promised to ensure all Kenyans access quality healthcare, through actualisation of Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

The CBA was further supported by 2019 policy guidance by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Council (KMPDC).

KPMDC provided detailed posting progress and handling of transition of medical officers from schools to hospitals.

Yesterday, Atellah maintained posting of interns should be as per the 2017 CBA.

Last week, Labour court stopped the ongoing nationwide strike, and asked the ministry and doctors to make amends in order not to jeopardize the lives of patients.

Doctors have since defied the court order, as they continue paralysing medical services.

KMPDU SG has maintained that there is no contempt of court, saying the strike shall persists until the government honours the CBA.

Last week, while appearing before the National Assembly Health Committee, Nakhumicha asserted that the ministry had no money to post interns, saying that the National Treasury had committed to allocate Sh2 billion for obligations at the ministry. 

But in an interview with The Standard, Atellah dismissed claims that the government lacks money.

According to the union official, the government has money, but has wrong priorities.

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