Health experts welcome plan for task force

Wednesday, May 15th, 2024 04:30 | By
Doctors demonstrating on Nakuru streets on March 25 to protest against the government’s failure to listen to their demands. PHOTO/Print

The government is planning to form a task force to look into perennial challenges facing the health sector, days  after  doctors ended a 56-day industrial strike.

This came as a big relief for Kenyan patients seeking health services and who usually depend on a few medics, most of them in the lower cadres, and fate.

Some of the issues agreed upon by the government and the doctors’ union will be among those to be discussed by the task force, noted lawyer Margaret Nyambura, whose practice revolves around health issues.

“One of the agreements that I strongly feel is a welcome move for the country is the calling off of the strike by the doctors, because now patients can go to hospital and access healthcare services, which is their fundamental right,” she said regarding the return-to-work deal.

Healthcare workers

She said the team will examine closely the challenges that have been a bone of contention between healthcare workers and the national and county governments.

There is also a plan to hire 2,000 more doctors in the 2025-2026 financial year. “This is also a good move, because Kenyans will be able to access adequate health services as the human resource capacity will be improved,” Nyambura said.

She underscored a plan by the government to increase the number of pharmacists and dentists in health facilities.

“Then lastly, there are policies being discussed between the national government and counties that will facilitate the employment of more doctors, pharmacists and dentists in view of the capacity available in the budget,” she said, noting that these are some of the key benefits Kenyans are expected to get from the return-to-work formula.

Other health professionals welcomed the end of the doctors’ strike. Dr Veronicah Manduku, a clinical research scientist in radiology, noted that there was some level of commitment from both sides that was lacking before.

Healthcare services

“This is a good sign that Kenyans will not be stranded anymore when seeking healthcare services, so long as the agreements made are fully honoured,” she told People Daily yesterday.

Dr Manduku also lauded the plans to establish a task force to fast-track discussions on why medics are constantly clashing with the government in conflicts that undermine services.

“At least there is political goodwill from the top. When you see the President coming out to make a personal commitment to pursue the matter to its logical conclusion, then you know that the process is in good hands,” she said.

There is a sign of hope in the return-to-work document, Dr Manduku said, referring to plans to improve the agreement by paying arrears owed to doctors and posting interns.

However, she opposed plans by counties to hire medics on contract, arguing that medical courses are an expensive professional undertaking and graduates should be employed under permanent and pensionable arrangements.

“Counties should stop running from the critical responsibility of providing quality healthcare services, because health is a devolved function,” she said.

The government and the doctors’ union signed a return-to-work agreement last Wednesday, a deal that will bring relief to the sick who have been unable to get treatment in public hospitals.

The doctors should now focus on attending to the sick, said Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha.

Service delivery

“I want to urge all of us for now to focus on service delivery,” she said. “The country has waited anxiously for 54 days to see you back to work and they have a right to demand and expect to be served without further delay.

“To the families and patients who may have wondered when the strike would end, we understand your pain, more so now, when we were accelerating universal health coverage (UHC).”

Governors agreed to pay doctors all arrears and provide medical insurance within 90 days. Some 11 counties do not have a comprehensive medical cover for doctors.

They also agreed to release doctors for post-graduate training based on staffing needs, numbers and the criteria for release, employment of doctors based on availability of resources, and staffing norms.

Governors will also engage the National Treasury within 90 days and give doctors car loans and mortgages.

They further agreed to work with doctors and put in place a new collective bargaining agreement within 30 days.

Counties also agreed to pay basic salary arrears in five installments.

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