Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) Secretary-General Seth Panyako was arrested on Monday for allegedly inciting nurses at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) to strike.
Mr Panyako was apprehended at the hospital as the caregivers agitated for better treatment by their employer and for security cases to be handled properly.
The nurses went on a go-slow, accusing KNH management of apathy.
Citing the case of nurse Mildred Akinyi, who was assaulted by the relatives of a patient who died, they accused the hospital of taking matters of insecurity casually and sweeping them under the rug.
The nurse who was assaulted three weeks ago has been discharged but is unable to move one side of her body.
She was beaten by more than three people, relatives of a mother who had lost her son, and had been in the High Dependence Unit.
The nurses also complained about Ms Akinyi's employment status: she was a temporary worker at the facility, an arrangement often termed as locum.
Deputy Secretary-General Maurice Opetu termed KNH’s response to Ms Akinyi's case as draconian and accused the union at the hospital of colluding with the facility to treat nurses unfairly.
Clinical Officers have also vowed to support the nurses in their bid for better treatment.
The Ministry of Health has been silent yet this case worsens the strained relationship between the nurses and the national hospital.
The Nursing Council of Kenya, which regulates the nursing practice, has not responded to Nation’s requests for comments on cases reported at the facility.
Mr Opetu said that the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA) stood by as KNH accused nurses of systemic issues and subjected them to unsafe working conditions.
Dr Masinde, the head of clinical services at KNH, told Nation, “They (nurses) want to join KNUN and for the hospital to recognise KNUN but they are still in KUDHEIHA. The hospital cannot belong to two unions."
Nurses in national facilities — Mathari, the National Spinal Injury Referral Hospital, KNH and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret — are not members of KNUN.
Dr Masinde denied claims that the nurse is paralysed, explaining that “she is recovering" and noting that the hospital is committed to looking after her.
KNH has 1,500 nurses, a ratio of about one to 11 patients. For a hospital of its stature, which handles many critical cases, health system experts advise one nurse per eight patients.
The World Health Organisation’s 2006 report on human resources for health noted that since healthcare workers take care of vulnerable people, it is assumed that they are immune to challenges.