Intern doctors at Mulago hospital remained on strike yesterday, as their action over unpaid wages entered the fourth day.
The ministry of Health says the interns have been paid, but when The Observer visited yesterday midmorning, the interns had not returned to the wards. Some patients complained about a deterioration in services. Contacted for a comment in the afternoon, the hospital's spokesman, Enock Kusasira, said everything had been resolved and the strike called off.
"As far as I know, interns are paid and they are working," Kusasira said.
Dozens of intern doctors and nurses went on strike on Monday, citing government failure to pay their allowances for February and March.
"I have rent arrears to clear and because I am a non-resident, I have got to transport and feed myself," said one intern, who identified herself as Joyce.
Another intern doctor added: "When I started internship, my parents threw their arms in relief. Now how can I go back asking for money? I have to leave early and report back home late to avoid bumping into my landlord."
However, many intern pharmacists refused to join the action, angry that the last strike, in November 2013, was abandoned before they got their demands. Although other health workers intervened to save the situation, some patients appeared to be feeling the effects of a reduced workforce.
Vincent Segawa was referred from Lubaga hospital with multiple injuries after being attacked by thieves. By yesterday morning, he had not seen the recommended doctor.
"I arrived at 10pm on the 8th [of April] but I have not received any medical attention. My swollen head has got worse," said Segawa, from Nansana in Wakiso district.
Rukia Nakamatte, the ministry's public relations officer, told The Observer that the problem arose when the ministry of Finance ordered the hospital to close its old payment account and open a new one.
"Mulago did not inform us; so, we sent the money to their old account and it bounced. It took us a week to reprocess their pay but by Tuesday, we had deposited the money and by now it should be on Mulago's account," Nakamatte said.
It is understood that because Mulago is also a teaching hospital, intern doctors do a great deal of clinical work. In their absence, patients were being handled by regular nurses, midwives, senior health officers (SHO) and consultants. One nurse yesterday said this 'emergency' workforce was feeling the strain of a heavy patient load.