Doctors' strike leaves patients in agony as CS says there's no money to meet demands

Patients leave after services at the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital were paralysed. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Patients across the country were left stranded Thursday as doctors kicked off their strike  and paralysed key medical services in several hospitals even as the Ministry of Health admitted before Parliament that it does not have the funds to meet doctors’ demands.

Appearing before the National Assembly Health Committee, CS for Health Susan Nakhumicha said lack of funds has derailed the posting of over 3,000 intern doctors across the country, which is one of the demands doctors have put on the table.

Nakhumicha told the committee that the National Treasury has promised to allocate the ministry Sh2 billion to help meet ministry’s obligations. The committee chaired by Isiolo MP Guyo Waqo demanded to know when the money will be released to the ministry.

In response, Nakhumicha said she would not give timelines because the National Treasury had not yet released the money.

“In the morning, I had a meeting with CS Treasury Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, who told me to wait until next week so that we get at least Sh2 billion,” Nakhumicha told the National Assembly Health Committee. 

A source at the ministry told The Standard that the Ministry of Health was allocated close to Sh3.7 billion to post two batches of interns during the 2023/24 financial year.

An additional Sh2 billion was allocated but was not sufficient to cover the deficit because of increased number of doctors graduating, leaving the currently pending gap of Sh4.9 billion.

This comes at a time doctors under the umbrella of Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) have paralysed health services across the country, demanding posting of 3,759 intern doctors

On Wednesday, the court suspended doctors’ strike to have parties involved resolve the standoff. 

But KMPDU Secretary General Dr Davji Atellah maintained that the strike was on. 

“Forget about the court, it did not call the strike,” Dr Atellah said, maintaining lack of commitment by the ministry to solve the interns’ issues. 

Yesterday, KMPDU Deputy Secretary General Dennis Miskellah said the union had received the court order, but it will not honour it since the government has failed to honour previous court orders relating to doctors’ issues. 

A spot check in the city showed low activities in various hospitals.

Mbagathi Hospital had a few doctors with equally fewer patients while Mama Lucy Hospital had reduced patient numbers with fewer medics on duty.

Across the country, several public health facilities had most services paralysed after doctors failed to report to work.

In Coast, in-patient, theater and clinic services were suspended indefinitely in several public health facilities following the strike.

KMPDU Coast branch Secretary Ghalib Salim said all 630 doctors in the six counties of the region had downed tools.

“All the services have been grounded since midnight. We are giving minimal services to patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and those in emergency,” said Dr Salim.

He said doctors will not resume duty if the 2021-2022 return-to-work formula that was agreed upon by both parties is not fully implemented by Governor Abdulswamad Nassir’s administration.

In Rift Valley, the start of the strike compromised cancer care, dialysis and diabetic services at specialised clinics at the Nakuru Level 5 Hospital.

In Trans Nzoia, key medical services, including surgery at public hospitals, were grounded as doctors joined their colleagues in the nationwide strike.

But activities were normal in Nandi County where medics defied the strike calls and served patients at the Kapsabet County Referral Hospital.

KMPDU Trans Nzoia County liaison officer Dr Francis Soita said the county government had not implemented the 2017 CBA. 

In the Western region, services at public hospitals in Busia, Kakamega, Bungoma, and Vihiga counties remained paralysed.

At county referral hospitals, patients in need of specialised treatment were being turned away because there were no doctors to attend to them.

Relatives of some of the patients at Vihiga County Referral Hospital were contemplating transferring them to private hospitals.

A similar trend was observed in Busia County where relatives of some of the patients said they had been forced to try their luck in private health facilities.

In Bungoma, Health Executive Andrew Wamalwa said only 11 out of 37 doctors reported to work at the the referral facility. In Central, health facilities experienced a go-slow. In Nyanza, most of the striking doctors retreated to their private clinics to serve patients.

[Report by Mercy Kahenda, Maryanne Muganda, Brian Kisanji, Anne Atieno, Renson Mnyamwezi, Nathan Ochunge, Jesse Sikali, Hilda Otieno, Antony Gitonga, Purity Mwangi, James Omoro, Clinton Ambujo, Boniface Gikandi,Edward Kosut and Osinde Obare]

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