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KMPDU rejects draft policy on intern doctors

Health & Science
 A group of doctors doing internal eye surgery on a four-year-old at Kenyatta National Hospital, in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

As talks to end health workers strike hit headwinds there’s increasing uncertainty around a possible solution. The Ministry of Health has drafted new policy guidelines to manage the now controversial issue of intern doctors.

Doctors have however rubbished the proposed national internship policy terming it illegal, ill-advised and ill-timed.

The policy is intended to address challenges facing internship programmes in the health sector with focus on doctors. Interns have long expressed concern that they do the heavy lifting in public hospitals, due to gross staff shortages, and their remuneration and terms of services have been one of the key reasons for the ongoing strike.

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha has said intern doctors are overpaid and “remain students”, a stand that is opposed to KMPDU’s submission that interns provide over 70 per cent of all services in public hospitals.

The proposed internship policy seeks to end the debate on this area of service in public health institutions and now states that internship is primarily educational. It adds that internship provides more benefit to the intern than the host site which underlines the CS’s sentiments that interns are students rather than employees.

The policy, a copy of which we have in our possession, further states that internships should complement rather than displace paid employees. It says that is an ideal evidently far from the truth on the ground.

It also states that interns may be paid stipends at a rate to be determined by the mandated constitutional body from time to time.

However, Kenya Medical Practitioners Dentist Union Deputy Secretary General Dennis Miskella said CS Nakhumicha’s push for a draft policy around the issue has worsened the situation. He said the intention of drafting such a policy is to make their work harder.

“The policy push will end up badly for the CS. Our members are negotiating, we’re in the middle of give and take, but can we successfully give and take when this woman is provoking them (interns) out there? She’s putting more fire under our feet,” he said.

“As a union, we consider the CS as our member because she helps us recruit, so for her in the middle of this stalemate, to come and say that interns cannot be unionised and that they have to look for their own medical cover, and good conduct, all in the middle of a crisis, she should first pull back and help and not dig further in because we are negotiating in good faith,” Miskella said.

He said the medical fraternity does not need such a policy.

“Cap 253 of KMPC act is very clear on how to handle interns. We don’t need a policy, we just need to follow the law,” said Miskellah adding that the Health Cabinet Secretary is making things worse with the policy push.

Dr Davji Atellah, KMPDU Secretary General said the policy is illegal.

The review encapsulated in the policy states that it was reviewed through an evidence-based and consultative process involving the government and stakeholders, yet doctors claim they were not involved.

“Doctors were not consulted around the internship policy and our position remains that it is ill-advised and ill-timed,” he said.

“A minister should protect a ministry and her people but for the first time here is a minister who is just fighting her own people.”

He said the move to antagonize medics will only affect the people who need them the most. “It is the mwananchi who suffers, because like back in 1994, doctors will walk out in droves. It’s we doctors who are going to deliver that UHC so if you continuously provoke them and have bad blood then how do you want it to be delivered?” he asked.

“I hope she will come to her senses,” Miskellah concluded.

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