The Star (Nairobi)

30 August 2012

Kenya: KNH, Government Intimidating Our Striking Members, Says Union

THE Kenya Medical Pharmacists and Dentists Union has called on the Kenyatta National Hospital's management and government to desist from intimidating its striking members.

The union, which called for the doctors' strike on Monday, said yesterday it will sue two senior directors in the Medical Services ministry and KNH if they continue threatening the interns that they will sack them for refusing to return to work.

And as the strike entered its third day yesterday, pain, anguish and frustration from patients and health workers were evident as the hospital made frantic efforts to attend to them. Despite KNH CEO Richard Lesiyampe's appeal for a dialogue between the government and the union to end the stalemate, no side has ceded ground.

On Tuesday, Lesiyampe called on key players in the strike to resolve the impasse to save the patients from the agony. More than 400 private and government-sponsored trainee doctors downed their tools on Monday to force the government to honour an earlier agreed return-to-work formula that ended another strike late last year.

Speaking to the Star on the phone, secretary general Were Onyino affirmed that the strike was still on, and regretted the latest tactics by the government and a section of KNH senior directors to intimidate them. "We are calling on senior officials who are threatening interns to stop it, as we shall be compelled to sue them, the status quo still remains," said Onyino.

He said their move to down tools, which was occasioned by government's inaction to honour the RTW formula, was legal. He ruled out any possibility of a renegotiation, and reiterated their willingness to resume operations once the government heeds to their demands. "Unfortunately, there has been no official communication from the government and no development so far," chairman Victor Ng'ani said.

He said his side was hoping that the government will call a crisis meeting to address the stalemate, but no decision had been taken, prompting the members to stay put. Though no casualties have been reported thus far, operations at the busy health facility have adversely been affected, with some departments such as the outpatient attending to emergency services only.

Simon Ithai from the Communications department assured the public that the management was doing its best to cope with the situation. While admitting that the strike had affected operations, Ithai said, "Even though we are not operating optimally, and with a reduction in the number of patients, we are managing fairly well."

He said the facility had resorted to employing contingency measures to attend to services needed in specialized clinics: "We recalled all doctors who had gone on leave, to help us fill the shortage." KMPDU has vowed to mobilize other doctors in the next 18 days for a nationwide strike if the government will not have given in to its demands.

Last year, the government heeded to the union's demand to pay the doctors an extraneous allowance of Sh92,000 to cater for their basic needs, but has not operationalised the agreement eight months since its signing. They are also demanding the disbursement of sh200 million which was released by treasury to cater for their fees.

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