Nurses in public hospitals in most parts of the country returned to work Friday, to the relief of patients, after a five-month boycott that paralysed the health sector.
Their return to work follows the signing of an agreement between the nurses union, governors and the national government on Thursday evening.
But the agreement was reached at a time when some counties, impatient with the strike, had fired the striking nurses and employed new ones while others have advertised for the positions. Others have been barred by the courts from hiring.
On Friday, some counties that had already replaced the striking nurses were still pondering how to resolve the issue, given that part of Thursday’s agreement was that all disciplinary measures against the nurses would be withdrawn.
Kisumu, Lamu, Vihiga and Kirinyaga had advertised and replaced the nurses on strike while Laikipia, Machakos, Taita Taveta and Murang’a were on Wednesday barred by the Nyeri Labour and Employment Court from hiring new nurses.
Justice Byram Ongaya, while sitting in Nyeri Labour and Employment Court, barred governors Nderitu Muriithi (Laikipia), Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Granton Samboja (Taita Taveta) and Mwangi Wairia (Murang’a) from recruiting new nurses to fill the 1,458 positions.
The judge also cancelled job advertisements placed in the media two weeks ago by the respective county governments.
The Kajiado administration said it would retain new nurses who were hired two days to the return-to-work deal. Ms Esther Somoire, the Health Executive said the 100 nurses had been had been given a three-month contract.
“Even as the striking nurses return to work we still have gaps that need to be filled,” she told Saturday Nation on phone.
She added that the county government was expanding its health services, hence the need for more nurses. “We are glad that the striking nurses are now back to work; this means better services to our people.”
In Mombasa, patients turned out in large numbers at the Coast Provincial General Hospital after they learnt that the strike had been called off.
Some of the patients said they had to travelled to Mombasa to seek treatment at the institution because of improved services and availability of specialists.
Doctors were Friday overwhelmed by the huge numbers.
“We are happy nurses are back. We will now resume our operations. We have only been handling emergencies and offering dialysis and intensive care unit services,” said Dr Peter Sore, who is in charge of the Cardiac Unit.
But in Muranga, nurses were denied access to their work stations following a directive from Health Executive Joseph Mbai said they had warned the nurses to resume duty or be sacked. The county administration recently replaced those who participated in the strike.
“We don’t have any problems with those who adhered to our warning, for those who did not, we advertised vacancies and hired a set of new nurses,” Mr Mbai told the Nation, adding that the county’s decision was irreversible.
In Vihiga County, where the suspension of the strike coincided with plans to recruit 191 relief nurses, services resumed at the main referral hospital.
In Kisumu, there were long queues of patients at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral hospital. Medical Superintendent Dr Juliana Otieno said they expected all the nurses to report to work by Monday.
But in Kisii, most nurses did not report to work. At the Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, the nurses’ administration block and duty room were locked throughout Friday.
In Siaya County, workers were yet to go back to their work stations. And in Isiolo, Kirinyaga and Meru counties, only a handful of nurses were at work.
A fumigation exercise is currently being conducted at Isiolo Referral Hospital’s theatre and new born unit, forcing nurses to keep off work.
Workers reported on duty by 8am in Nyeri.
Reporting by Winnie Atieno, Joseph Ngunjiri, George Sayagie, Ndung’u Gachane, Angela Oketch, Derrick Luvega, Justus Ochieng’, Magati Obebo, Barrack Oduor, Nelcon Odhiambo, Irene Mugo, George Munene, Vivian Jebet and Andrew Malonza