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Blow for Nairobi Hospital as court quashes suspension of 10 doctors

 The main entrance to The Nairobi Hospital. [File, Standard]

One of Kenya's top hospitals recently suspended 10 doctors from active duty leaving their critically ill patients fighting for lives in the wards. 

The Nairobi Hospital doctors, who have since moved to court, say the suspension left their patients in jeopardy contrary to the demands of their professional ethics to save lives.

The hospital’s administration allegedly suspended the doctors for participating in a Special General Meeting (SGM).

The doctors reckon that their employer overstepped his authority, and acted improperly, leaving critically ill patients without necessary medical care.

One of the suspended doctors, through his lawyers, Ahmednasir Abdullahi & Company Advocates, has told the court that the decision violated their constitutional rights to a fair hearing and fair administrative process.

According to court documents seen by The Standard, the doctor says the action was taken while patients, some in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and High Dependency Unit (HDU), were receiving medical attention from the suspended doctors.

“Suspending doctors who are actively treating patients, especially those in critical condition, is not only reckless but also in gross violation of our professional duties. Such action compromises patient care and endangers lives,” said the doctor through his legal counsel.

The Nairobi Hospital CEO, James Nyamongo, in a letter also filed before the court, blamed the doctors for promoting irregular meetings of the Admitting Staff Association contrary to Regulations of the Nairobi Hospital.

“You have been involved in activities disruptive to the operations of the Kenya Hospital Association and thus acted in a manner contrary to the interests of the association,” Mr Nyamongo says, adding that, “the activities have resulted in apathy, confusion and balkanization within the hospital.”

The doctors' legal representatives, Cohen Amanya, Jerioth Muthoni, and Teddy Onyango, and Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi have accused Mr Nyamongo of overstepping his bounds, rendering the decision to suspend the doctors as illegal, irrational, and null and void.

The lawyers argued that the CEO, who only holds a secretarial role within the Admitting Staff Association, lacks the authority to suspend its members, as such powers rest with the Admitting Staff Association.

“The 1st Respondent’s conduct is a total abuse of his authority as the Chief Executive Officer of the Nairobi Hospital since he does not have the mandate, authority, and/or capacity to suspend any member of the Admitting Staff Association,” Mr Abdullahi says in court documents. “The suspensions were issued without valid authority and due process.”

The contested Special General Meeting which took place on April 25, 2024, was convened by 40 members and is chaired by Luke Musau, a doctor at the facility. Part of the resolutions included a decision to recall the Medical Advisory Committee and appoint new leaders.

These resolutions were duly communicated to Mr Nyamongo and the Chairman of the Board of Management, the doctors say in the court documents.

The suspension letters were issued on April 29, 2024, to 10 doctors who took part in the AGM, alleging misconduct. Thirty doctors, including the past chairman, a board member, and the returning officer, were left out.

In a letter dated April 29, 2024, Mr Nyamongo stated that the doctors’ memberships in the Admitting Staff Association (ASA) were suspended under Regulation 14 of the Nairobi Hospital Admitting Staff Association regulations, pending a final decision. The CEO's letter cited "activities disruptive to the Kenya Hospital Association" as the reason for the suspension, alleging that the SGM was not properly sanctioned.

“This notwithstanding, and until the final decision is made, your membership in ASA is hereby suspended,” Mr Nyamongo wrote.

A doctor, whose identity we have hidden to protect her position, expressed disbelief at the CEO’s actions. “We followed all proper procedures to convene the meeting, which was attended by more than the required quorum. The decisions made were in the best interest of patient care and hospital governance,” she says in the court documents.

Mr Abdullahi says in his plaints that the suspensions were in breach of Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya, which guarantees the right to the highest attainable standard of healthcare. By locking out the doctors, Mr Nyamongo endangered patients' lives and violated their right to healthcare. Additionally, the suspensions breached Articles 27(5) and 47, which protect against discrimination and demand fair administrative action.

“The respondent’s actions were discriminatory and procedurally unfair,” “Over 40 members attended the meeting, yet only a handful of doctors were targeted for suspension. This selective punishment is indicative of an ulterior motive.”

“In suspending the doctors, the 1st Respondent completely locked us out from attending to our patients, many of whom are in critical care units. This is a blatant disregard for the patient's right to the highest standard of healthcare,” one of the doctors says in his plaint.

The suspended doctors are seeking several court orders, including the quashing of the suspension letters, prohibition of further disciplinary actions, and a mandate for adherence to the Admitting Staff Association’s Regulations. They argue that their suspension and the intended disciplinary actions are procedurally unfair and driven by ulterior motives.

The doctors' petition highlights excessive wrangling at the Nairobi Hospital, which continues to affect its management. According to Lawyer Onyango, the hospital’s internal regulations allow for a Special General Meeting to be requisitioned by at least 25 voting members, provided the nature of the business to be transacted is clearly stated. The doctors complied with this regulation, submitting their requisition on April 8, 2024, well in advance of the meeting.

“There was no objection to the meeting,” Mr Onyango noted. “The SGM was conducted in full compliance with the Nairobi Hospital Admitting Staff Association’s regulations, yet the CEO acted unilaterally to suspend key medical personnel.”

Legal challenge to the suspension is only the latest explosion of the long running tension between the hospital administration and its medical staff. The court's decision is not only expected to impact the careers of the suspended doctors but also set a precedence for how internal disputes and governance issues are handled within major healthcare institutions.

"Our primary concern has always been and will always be the well-being of our patients," the vice-chairperson says. "We hope the court sees the urgency and gravity of our situation and acts swiftly to rectify this injustice."

The court has since issued orders lifting the suspensions and allowed the doctors to continue working. Additionally, the order effectively stopped the newly-elected officials from taking office and stopped the hospital from holding any AGM.

The court ultimately directed the parties to go for mediation to resolve the outstanding issues. 

But in a surprise move, the judge in the case recused himself on June 7, citing personal reasons. The case will be mentioned on June 30, 2024.

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