Operations at public hospitals countrywide were paralysed on Thursday after health workers went on strike to push for better terms.
Administrators of public hospitals across the country, including referral centres, sent away patients after nurses, clinical officers mortuary attendants and paramedical staff boycotted work and held peaceful protests demanding that the government meets their demands.
But the government reacted angrily on Thursday evening and threatened to sack the striking workers if they did not return to work.
“They have been paid all the allowances they are claiming, we have paid nurses working in remote areas Sh25,000 over and above their salaries, we have paid mortuary attendants Sh7,000 and drivers Sh5,000, we are dealing with crooks.
“If they don’t return to work, we will sack them and employ new nurses, we have over 30,000 applications,” said Medical Services assistant minister Kazungu Kambi on Thursday evening.
However, operations at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Kenya's premier referral institution, were not interrupted after the management held a meeting with the workers and resolved to ignore the strike call. (READ: Health workers issue strike notice)
“Our staff have resolved to obey the court injunction (outlawing the strike) to allow negotiations to continue,” said the hospital’s corporate affairs manager Simon Ithae. The injunction was issued on Tuesday.
The workers under the Kenya Health Professionals Society (KHPS) are demanding that the government pays Sh15,000, which is the first phase of the risk allowance amounting to Sh30,000 that was agreed upon late last year.
Under the agreement between the government and the union, the first phase of the risk allowance was to be paid in January this year and the next phase in July.
At the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, operations stalled as more than 150 workers boycotted work and marched along the town’s streets to protest poor working conditions.
At one point, they marched to the Uasin Gishu District Hospital to rally their colleagues into joining the strike.
“We are insisting that the government must give us our allowances as agreed earlier on,” said Mr Daniel Kurgat.
The hospital’s acting director, Dr John Kibosia, later issued a statement claiming that the workers had agreed to return to work.
“We met with the leaders of the workers and informed them of a court injunction and they understood,” said Dr Kibosia.
The situation was the same at various hospitals in the Coast Province.
At the Coast General Hospital, hundreds of health workers held peaceful protests accusing Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o of reneging on the agreement to pay them risk allowance.
KHPS Coast branch Chairman Rashid Musingi maintained that his colleagues would not return to work until their demands were met.
Staff at other government hospitals such as Port Reitz, Tudor Hospital and health centres also downed tools.
At the Rift Valley Provincial Hospital, operations came to a standstill, forcing patients to seek treatment at private health providers after the more than 2,500 health workers joined the strike.
They held a procession along key streets in the town. The local co-ordinator of KPHS, Mr Mwai Maina, accused the government of failing to appreciate the role of health workers in health care delivery.
“When you go to the hospital, the first person you will find is a nurse, when you go to a pharmacy you will often meet a trained pharmacist.
“Technically, we spend more time with patients than doctors do. Why are we treated like second-class workers?” he asked.
Operations also stalled at the Kerugoya and Gucha district hospitals and patients were turned away or referred to private health facilities.
Kisii County’s union official, Mr Kefa Aminga, said no work would be done until the dues were paid.
Patients at the Kiambu District Hospital were also turned away after health workers participated in the strike.
Dozens of patients were stranded at the casualty and outside the hospital compound due to lack of nurses to attend to them.
Nurses at the hospital complained of being overworked due to the high number of patients against a skeleton staff.
Operations were also crippled at the Narok District Hospital as workers joined the strike.
They also demanded that the government supplies the hospital with adequate drugs to enable them attend to patients effectively.
The District Medical Officer of Health Dr David Kuria admitted that the strike had affected health services in the district.
The strike however failed to take off at the Iten District Hospital as nurses reported to duty on time and discharged services without any hitches.
Stories by Beryl Wambani, Eric Wainaina, Ouma Wanzala, Jackline Moraa, Daniel Nyassy, Timothy Kemei, George Munene and KNA