The Ministry of Health has come up with a raft of measures to cushion desperate Kenyans from the impact of the doctors’ strike.
Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu has directed counties to redistribute medicine in public health facilities shut down due to the strike to the more than 2,000 faith-based hospitals currently treating Kenyans.
“I urge all Kenyans with a medical emergency such as road accidents injuries to proceed to the faith-based institutions registered under the National Hospital Insurance Fund, where they will be treated,” he said in a press briefing at the ministry’s Afya House in Nairobi on Friday.
He also asked expectant mothers to go to the faith-based facilities to deliver for free as this is covered by the NHIF under the Linda Mama Scheme launched by the government last year.
Dr Mailu said the health-seeking behaviour of Kenyans had changed and that they do not go to hospital when ill and stay at home instead because they believe they can only be treated by doctors.
The CS said that while 500 doctors were currently working across the counties against the 2,000 who have downed tools for over 41 days now, there are skilled health professionals to attend to patients.
“The clinical officers and nurses are back to nearly 6,000 health facilities and they are skilled to give health services unless there is a need for specialised medical care. But we are working to ensure that more specialists are available as soon as possible.”
The CS has also directed counties to send nurses and clinical officers in health facilities that have been grounded due to the strike to go and serve in hospitals that are overwhelmed by patients or short-staffed.
He said he was aware that lives have been lost in what he termed as “avoidable” circumstances since the strike began on December 5, but said he would get full details from the County Health Executives on Monday.
“We are open for negotiations with the doctors within the law, even if they would like to do it now. Our offer is still on the table.”
He was making reference to a return-to-work deal that the government had given to the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentist Union leaders in Mombasa early in the year that would see the highest earning doctor – a specialist – take home a maximum of Sh582,980 and the lowest – an intern – receive a maximum of Sh208,236.
The government also extended non-monetary benefits, including mortgages, car loans and training.
However, the doctors rejected the proposed salaries and job grades. But the doctors have instead asked that the government adopt a 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that would give the doctors higher rates of between 70 and 200 per cent of their current salaries. Further, the CBA addresses working conditions of doctors, research and other issues.
But the government has said the CBA is not only unregistered and thus cannot be implemented, but cannot be approved by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission as is expected of public service regulations because it is not within the agreed salary evaluations.
“We have given the doctors an offer, that would be adopted from July 1, 2017, to 2021 but they refused. The main issues of contention are the salaries and job grading, which, we believe, should be within the SRC and public service structure,” said Dr Mailu.
In the meantime, Catholic bishops have offered to mediate the strike talks with the government even as they appealed to the health workers to resume essential medical duties, even to a limited extent as the union continues with the negotiations with the government.
The statement signed by Bishop Philip Anyolo, the chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, read: “The on-going human suffering and loss of life cannot continue as we pride ourselves in a working and stable government.”