A standoff between doctors and the government has deepened after their union rejected an offer by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe.
The union issued a 21-day strike notice on November 15, demanding provision of comprehensive medical cover for all doctors irrespective of whether they work in public or private health facilities.
Kagwe a day later announced that he had instructed the National Hospital Insurance Fund to conclude negotiations for comprehensive group lives, last expense, enhanced work and injury benefits and accident cover for Covid-19 for healthcare workers.
But speaking in Nairobi on Tuesday, the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union dismissed the offer by the CS, noting that what was unveiled does not address the concerns they raised.
The CS met the union officials on Monday last week to deliberate on their grievances in an effort to avert the looming strike.
Union secretary general Chibanzi Mwachonda said the cover excludes doctors working in county governments, those working in parastatals such as KNH, Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral Hospital, the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and doctors working in universities.
“It is sad that we have lost a good number of doctors who teach undergraduate and post-graduates students. These doctors are excluded from this cover, so on that note we know the government has come out to say they provided a cover,” Mwachonda said.
“If these doctors are not covered then this strike will kick off until the time that they will be covered,” he added.
The union further raised concern that the ministry employed 188 doctors in August on contracts of six-months but they are yet to be paid to date, adding that they do not have medical cover or any form of compensation yet they were deployed to work in isolation and treatment centres.
“The same doctors who are supposed to be working in isolation and treatment centres have now been deployed to work in various departments in hospitals, in maternities to cover shortages so there is an acute shortage of doctors in this country,” Mwachonda said.
They want each county to employ at least 50 doctors to cover for Covid-19 and for the other services, failure to which they will down their tools on December 7.
They also noted that doctors at the ministry, in the universities health services and at UoN, Moi University, Kenyatta University, JKUAT and Maseno where their members teach and offer clinical services must be paid call allowance.
According to the union, the arrears for the last three years were paid in June and July and no subsequent payment has been made for the last four months.
On PPE, the union said the issue of the government availing quality and standard items to all healthcare workers is non-negotiable, adding that directives from the ministry to counties will not solve the issue.
Kagwe last week directed county governments to source for PPE that have been lying idle at Kemsa stores at prevailing market rates.
“Those PPE at Kemsa must be availed for the doctors and other healthcare workers. Whatever mechanism that will be used they must be availed. We will not allow our members to die on the line of duty,” Mwachonda said.
The union dismissed claims by Kagwe that doctors are contracting Covid-19 in the community and not in health facilities.
The agitated union officials termed it an insult to the medical profession, saying that healthcare workers spent a maximum of between 12 and 19 hours in hospitals hence the high rate of infections among them.
So far, 12 doctors have succumbed to the virus since the pandemic struck; 18 nurses and seven clinical officers have also died in the line of duty.
“Let me put this clear and to the CS, this narrative that doctors are contracting Covid-19 out of hospitals must stop. You cannot come and insult us and tell us that doctors are getting Covid in bars. That is an insult to the profession and we will not take it lightly,” Mwachonda said.
The doctors maintained that the issue of having a Covid-19 isolation and treatment centre in each county is not negotiable, adding that they wrote to the county governments at the beginning of the pandemic, in July, August and in September on the matter.
“We won’t allow any doctor to die because of movement from one county to the next. These deaths have been very painful. The lack of oxygen is real in the counties so we cannot be talking about preparedness for eight months and nothing is being done on the ground.”
Nurses and clinical officers have issued a 14-day strike notice to the government over similar concerns.
Should the government fail to act on their demands, the health services in the country are likely to be paralysed from December 7.