Government yesterday urged striking junior doctors to go back to work while it was looking into their grievances. Junior doctors at public health facilities downed tools on Saturday, citing several challenges such as unsatisfactory working conditions, low salaries and lack of basic medicines and equipment.
In an interview with The Herald yesterday, Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said the industrial strike by the doctors was illegal.
"The junior doctors embarked on industrial action, but this is illegal. They should have gone through a process of notifying the Health Services Board and making sure that everyone is aware, unfortunately that wasn't done.
"We had a meeting with the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors' Association and they explained the situation and they agreed that the industrial action was illegal.
"However, we decided to look at their grievances especially those which we can solve as a ministry starting with the availability of fuel and also improving the possibility of doctors arriving at work on time. We are urging the junior doctors to go back to work.
"It is much more sensible for them to be at work".
Dr Moyo said one of the drawbacks was that of fuel and Government is making arrangements for it to be availed.
"I have given an instruction that all the health institutions which have got petrol and diesel tanks should have them filled. I am going to be negotiating with the Minister of Energy to make sure that fuel is made available at all the health institutions.
"We also look at petrol stations where we can make arrangements for our doctors to be given priority to draw fuel, so that they don't spend the whole day in the queue. We want them to be working on the patients rather than being in the queues," he said.
He said the payment of doctors in US dollars was not possible at the moment.
"There is no foreign currency in the country to buy medicines for use in hospitals, and that particular aspect of paying individuals in US dollars is not possible.
"The President has been encouraging the pharmacists to sell drugs in local currency because there is no foreign currency, people cannot get foreign currency.
"If we were to try and say we are going to be paying people in foreign currency it would eat into the allocations for medicines, fuel and other things.
"Arrangements are being made as we access foreign currency," he said.
Minister Moyo said on the vehicle loan scheme -- out of the $10 million allocated to the revolving staff vehicle loan fund, only $4 million has been utilised.
"The balance of $6 million has not yet been released by Treasury.
"Staff, however, raised concern that the money is now not enough to purchase vehicles on the local market given that local car dealers are now charging in forex," he said.
He said the HSB had already approached Treasury to have the balance released urgently to enable the staff utilise it. The ministry is going to identify local companies who can supply vehicles for health care workers.
"On Call Allowance Review, the request to review the allowance from $7,50 to $10 was noted and will be submitted through the bipartite negotiating forum," Dr Moyo said.
On accommodation for health services staff, the minister implored the HSB to be proactive in addressing the issue and instructed the board to approach the local government ministry to request for allocation of land in all local authorities.
Dr Moyo said Government was making concerted efforts to acquire more drugs and surgical sundries through support from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, country to country arrangements, donor support and through credit facilities with international investors which should mature soon.
The minister also indicated his wish was to ensure a health care workforce that had the relevant paraphernalia at its disposal in order to discharge its duties diligently.
He praised the capabilities of the local health care practitioners as being of a very high level compared to other countries and that he had made human resource satisfaction his number one priority.
After the meeting, the junior doctors' representatives agreed to go back to work.