Empty beds in big, busy hospitals; where are patients?

Empty beds in big, busy hospitals; where are patients?

Pain, misery, anguish and death! These are the faces of patients, their relatives and caretakers in different public health facilities across the country. Public hospitals and dispensaries remained deserted even as the doctors and nurses downed their tools for the second day running challenging the government’s failure to respect the terms of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed between the two factions in 2013. The agreement included a 300 per cent pay raise for doctors. On Monday, KMPDU said it wants more medics hired to reduce the doctor-patient ratio from the recent 1:16,000. “We have a big shortage of doctors yet our counties are sending doctors away, saying they cannot hire more doctors,” KMPDU representative, Gitau Kagona, said. During the commencement of the strike on Monday, December 5, the medics carried empty sacks to symbolize money allegedly paid to business woman Josephine Kabura irregularly through the dubious National Youth Service (NYS) tendering process. The medics also launched a social media campaign through the hash tag #LipaKamaTender, to imply that the government should pay them like it pays tenders. The gory images of death, malnourished persons and fading hope all written on the patients’ faces. Empty shelves are the scenes of major hospitals, which are under the counties’ management, since patients have left for homes and alternative treatments. Since 2013, when the devolved system of governance took shape, hundreds of hospitals across the country were upgraded to Levels Four and Five while others were upgraded to referral status. However, the conditions of these hospitals have remained majorly poor with medics complaining of unconducive environment and constantly downing their tools. County governments, through their departments of health, have occasionally painted an otherwise picture accusing the nurses and doctors of insincerity in their push for higher pay. Meru, Nandi, Nakuru, Makueni, Machakos and Mombasa are some of the counties that recorded the highest number of strikes since 2013. Following the strike that started Monday, December 5, Nakuru’s department of health declared a state of emergency and effectively advertised for the positions of the nurses. The same has been experienced in Machakos and Makueni where the counties have threatened to sack the striking medics and carry out fresh recruitment. Nakuru County Governor Kinuthia wa Mbugua said the decision was reached as a measure to ensure adequate staffing in various health facilities to attend to the patients. In Nairobi, hospitals that serve hundreds of patients who cannot afford the cost of private health facilities daily have not been spared. Kenyatta National Hospital, the country’s leading referral hospital, Mbagathi Hospital and Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi’s Eastlands area have not been spared by the industrial action. How soon will the empty beds be occupied again? Will the deserted hospital corridors be busy again? And will the deafening silence in the hospital compounds be ‘silenced’? Industrial action by doctors is complicated by their professional values and ethical framework. Most strikes are effective because they harm a neutral third party, who is then motivated to pressure the employer to accede to strike demands. Unfortunately, when doctors strike, this third party is often the patient. Relatives of the patients argue that the doctors’ strike inevitably exposes patients to risk of serious harm.

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