Kenya’s public healthcare system was paralysed on Thursday after the government sacked the 25,000 striking health workers, including nurses.
They will be replaced by retired nurses and other health workers and interns, according to a government statement.
The blanket sacking was the culmination of seven days of protests by nurses, laboratory technicians, pharmacists and other health workers in government service demanding better terms of employment and working conditions.
In response to the announcement of their sackings, the nurses maintained that their strike was still on and that the government move was ill advised.
They held demonstrations in major towns and vowed to continue doing so until their demands were met. (READ: Nurses disown minister's back to work deal)
The nurses want their extraneous allowance increased from the current Sh7,500 to Sh50,000 to be at par with doctors.
They also want non-practice allowance of Sh50,000, car allowance (night duty) of Sh40,000 and their uniform allowance increased from Sh10,000 to Sh40,000.
Announcing the sackings on Thursday, government spokesman Alfred Mutua said their names were removed from the payroll on Thursday and they will receive their dismissal letters soon.
“All illegal striking health professionals who defied the directive by Medical Services minister (Prof Anyang Nyong’o) to report to work have been dismissed,” Dr Mutua said in his address to the nation on Thursday.
“All qualified health professionals who are unemployed or retired are advised to report to the nearest health facility for interviews and deployment starting tomorrow (March 9, 2012),” Dr Mutua said.
He added: “The government has taken this firm action to alleviate further suffering of innocent Kenyans.” (READ: Mum, baby bleed to death in strike horror)
“It is wrong, regardless of any disagreement, for a health professional to abscond duty and lead to loss of life or suffering.
“The government and indeed the people of Kenya will not tolerate this,” the government spokesman said.
Medical Services minister Peter Nyong’o confirmed that the health workers had been sacked for deserting work.
“They have absconded their duties leading to the suffering of Kenyans and the ministry could not tolerate it,” the minister said.
Prof Nyong’o said recruitment started immediately the release was sent out to replace the sacked ones.
But Kenya Health Professionals Society coordinator, Fred Omiya, dismissed the ministry’s move saying the sacking was ill advised.
“The sacking is just like when a patient comes to your hospital and you turn him/her away instead of diagnosing the disease, which will worsen in a few days,” Mr Omiya said.
National Nurses Association of Kenya chairman Luke K’Odambo dismissed the move. Mr K’Odambo said the announcement by the minister will worsen the situation in public hospitals.
“Business is not conducted this way...If the minister announced on Tuesday that he had sacked the striking nurses, why is he making a similar announcement that he has sacked (those on strike again?) Mr K’Odambo asked.
Nurses were employed by the Public Service Commission and not Prof Nyong’o, he said. Meanwhile, the striking health workers have asked the public to join them in their demonstration on Friday.
The workers, who were chanting anti-Nyong’o slogans reiterated that the strike would go on until money was put on the negotiating table.
They also blamed Parliament for letting the strike go so far and consequently causing public suffering. Earlier, emotions ran high during a special nurses executive committee meeting in Nairobi.
Representatives from various branches vowed that nurses would not resume duty until the Government “put a convincing package on the table”.
They said it would be an “embarrassment” to resume duty if their demands had not been met.
A spot check revealed that patients were not being attended while most wards were empty.
At the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital there were only a few patients who were making arrangements to transfer elsewhere.
Ms Rael Tuimusing from Olenguruone was making last minute efforts to transfer her granddaughter to another hospital as she was the only remaining patient at the Nyayo Ward.
Most of the wards were deserted and only cleaners and other subordinate staff were seen making rounds.
“I have been working as a cleaner in this hospital for a long time but the suffering of innocent children in Ward 13 is still haunting me and I wish the nurses will come back and negotiate for their salaries while on duty,’ said Lucy Atieno a cleaner at the hospital.
At the female surgical ward, Florence Wanjiru Macharia from Molo was the only patient.
“I was hit by a motorbike and suffered serious leg injuries and I’m now worried my leg may be amputated if I don’t get urgent medical attention,” said Ms Wanjiru.
In Kisumu, an expectant 26 year old woman is reported to have died.