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Inside State House meeting that helped ease doctors' stalemate

 Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union members demonstrate along Eldoret streets Uasin Gishu County on March 21, 2024. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

A flicker of light at the end of a dark tunnel that had built around public hospitals showed, albeit faintly, yesterday after President William Ruto stepped in to ease the doctor’s strike.

Before the statement by Head of Public Service at KICC yesterday, sources said the President had called for a meeting at State House with an express intent to end the stalemate.

Delivering President William Ruto’s message Head of Public Service Felix Koskei said the government will ensure the dispute is resolved amicably.

“I assure you of government commitment to this process, and the Head of State and Government has expressed his desire for a comprehensive solution to the current dispute,” said Mr Kosgei.

He added, “For example, President William Ruto has demonstrated that there are more positive outcomes that can be achieved through dialogue. There has been dialogue between Executive and Judiciary, to ensure the government works to deliver for people of Kenya”.

Sources told The Standard that the President met Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha at State House, in an attempt to diffuse the stalemate. Also at the meeting Thursday morning were Koskei and senior government officials.

“CS Nakhumicha was expected to issue letters to clinical officer interns at Afya House, but she never showed up because she was having a meeting with the President at State House,” said the source.

At the time of meeting the President, Nakhumicha was to issue letters of internship to clinical officers. Immediately after the State House meeting, Koskei, showed up at KICC and delivered Ruto’s message.

The KICC meeting brought together various stakeholders to find a lasting solution to the stalemate that has paralysed healthcare services across the country, following the doctors’ strike.

Talks were ordered by the Employment and Labour relations Court to respective ministries. According to court orders dated March 15, 2024, respective ministries were directed to seek and comprehensively address all grievances leading to the doctors’ strike. They include Cabinet Secretary for Labour and Social protection, Salaries and Remuneration Commission and Public Service Commission.

Health being a devolved function, governors from all the 47 counties were also directed to be part of the reconciliation and negotiation committee.

Also represented were the Kenya Federation of Employers and Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), including all national referral hospitals. Mr Koskei admitted to stakeholders that the doctors’ strike which has entered into its second week has affected healthcare in public health facilities.

 Doctors and Government officials during the Doctors and Government officials meeting at KICC. Nairobi on March 21, 2024, to solve the doctors' strike that has paralized hospitals. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

He acknowledged the role played by doctors, saying they were key in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, and that they cannot be ignored after servicing the nation diligently.

“The court directed all of us to engage in dialogue and find a solution to the present dispute. My office has thus obeyed the order and convened this dialogue meeting,” said Koskei.

He pleaded with union leadership to come to the negotiation table with optimism and an open mind. “Every day that these strikes persist, harm is being done to our fellow citizens. By heeding to this call of dialogue, the union has demonstrated its commitment ‘to do no harm’,” said the Head of Public Service.

The strike, he said though has caused harm, it has also brought unprecedented collection of stakeholders across various ministries, government institutions, professionals and professional bodies.

He reiterated that Kenya Kwanza administration is committed to finding a swift and sustainable solution to the current impasse, and to actualise the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) agenda.

“I encourage all parties to work together in good faith to address the underlying issues and to restore normalcy to our health sector, which Kenyans urgently require,” he said.

The solutions the committee seek, according to the Head of Public Service, also require financial commitments.

“We seek realistic time to implement national and global financial landscape. To do so, we must act swiftly, and be guided by patriotism and civic purity to ensure this is the last industrial action in the health sector,” he said.

Kenya has in the past witnessed numerous strikes, with the most memorable one being in 2017 where doctors under KMPDU downed tools for more than 100 days.

The prolonged strike gave birth to 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), that is now the current source of dispute between the Ministry of Health and doctors.

Doctors downed tools across the country, demanding implementation of the CBA, with posting of interns being among contentious issues that is binding in the CBA.

“Kenyans out there are excepting us to thrash out our points of conflict and step out with lasting solutions. My office and I will be at hand to facilitate the process that has begun today. Let us be genuine custodians of this process,” added Koskei.

The chairman of the committee Linus Kariuki said the issues directed to the court by KMPDU were 19, and as a result, a reconciliation committee was appointed by CS Labour Florence Bore.

Kariuki said a number of meetings among the union and stakeholders have been successful. Among issues he said failure to provide comprehensive medical cover, an issue which he said is underway according to a brief from Health CS.

Other issues include raised he said was perennial delay and general mismanagement of internship programme.

“This issue is very hot. This is because it involves money, we have thought it necessary to come on behalf of parties to say that it is a money issue and the National Treasury, and the office of The President must recognise it is money involved here, and we can only take recognizant that money is involved, and we can only talk when we best about this issue,” he said.

Other issues raised include failure to employ doctors.

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