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Nakhumicha calls for review of doctors CBA as strike bites

 Striking doctors hung on a police land cruiser as they protested the implementation of their CBA on March 22, 2024. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha has called for a review of the 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which she believes instigated the current doctors’ strike.

Nakhumicha stated that the 2017 CBA contains ambiguous areas that need to be addressed. “I was not present when the agreement was signed between the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) and the then government,” she said.

During a thanksgiving ceremony for Lugari Constituency MP Nabii Nabwera on Saturday, Nakhumicha expressed her readiness to tackle the issue. She emphasized that President William Ruto’s administration is committed to resolving issues across all sectors for the welfare of all Kenyans.

“In 2017, I was not the Health CS. I only assumed office recently. However, the 2017 CBA has issues that I am determined to rectify. This government is keen on addressing and resolving all problems across all sectors for the benefit of Kenyans,” Nakhumicha stated.

She highlighted her efforts to reform the health sector during her tenure, including increasing the drug stock at Kemsa from 40 percent to 60 per cent and eliminating cartels at NHIF. “I am highly focused on improving the health sector,” she added.

According to Nakhumicha, the numerous demands in the CBA impede its full implementation.

The Minority Leadership in the National Assembly has urged President William Ruto to intervene and find a permanent solution to the doctors’ strike.

National Assembly Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi suggested that the Kenya Kwanza lawmakers should consider proposing a second supplementary budget before parliament for approval. This would allow funds to be allocated to actualize the 2017 CBA.

“If the budget is the issue, Kenya Kwanza MPs are the majority in the House. Let us convene parliament this week, propose a second supplementary budget, and allocate funds to post the intern doctors and for the swift promotion of doctors. President Ruto must lead the discussions with doctors to end the severe doctors’ strike,” Wandayi told Nakhumicha during the thanksgiving ceremony.

The National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, insisted that the doctors’ strike cannot be left to CS Nakhumicha alone to address. He urged MPs to take action, a sentiment echoed by Sirisia MP John Waluke, who questioned why the CS was being singled out in some quarters.

Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi stated that the doctors’ strike is a sensitive and complex issue that affects the lives of Kenyans and cannot be resolved in public forums.

“The long-lasting solution to challenges in the health sector is for the national government to devolve all funds meant for the sector because health is a devolved function. Yet, we have a situation where 80 percent of funds are held by the national government, making counties unable to meet the high demand in the health sector,” argued Osotsi.

He added: “If the Kenya Kwanza government is unable to support devolution, let it call a referendum. We can amend the Constitution and return the health function to the national government. That’s why we want our CS to be sensitive to the plight of doctors and Kenyans who are suffering. Let’s not trivialise such sensitive matters.”

Vihiga Women Representative Beatrice Adagala urged CS Nakhumicha to seek the help of MPs if the health budget is insufficient.

“We have a capable CS, and I want to urge her and the doctors to hold a meeting aimed at ending the strike. If the budget is an issue, we have understanding MPs who are ready to increase the ministry’s funds through a supplementary budget. This way, we can resolve some of the issues in our health sector,” said Adagala.

ODM Deputy Party leader and former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya advised CS Nakhumicha to involve President Ruto in finding a solution to the doctors’ strike.

“Health is a complex matter that requires a lot of seriousness. Doctors can sustain a strike for as long as they wish, but the majority of Kenyans will suffer. Let President Ruto get involved so that we can end the ongoing strike. The medics’ strike is not something that can be discussed or addressed in funerals and political functions,” said Oparanya.

According to Oparanya, most doctors engage in private practice to remain financially stable even during the strike.

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

Doctors are also demanding study leave, especially for doctors working in counties.

According to KMPDU Secretary General Dr Davji Atellah, the doctors’ demands are outlined in CBA that is yet to be implemented.

The signing of the CBA followed a prolonged nationwide doctors’ strike that lasted 100 days and resulted in the arrest of the then KMPDU union leadership, led by Dr Ouma Oluga.

In the CBA, the government committed to posting intern doctors, employing, promoting and redesignating doctors, and providing medical cover, among other demands.

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