Nurses have blamed Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe for ‘exposing’ their failure in English language tests required for UK jobs.
Through their Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun), the nurses said the CS had let them down.
On Wednesday, Mr Kagwe revealed that only 10 out of 300 nurses headed to the UK passed their English language proficiency tests.
Mr Kagwe said most of the Kenyan health workers recruited for the UK jobs failed in their English proficiency test. He urged them to work harder to meet foreign jobs employment requirements.
"Only 10 out of 300 health workers sent for an English language test passed. We had negotiated for clinical workers for job exports but this turn of events is unfortunate," Mr Kagwe said during the Kenya Clinical Officers Association Scientific Conference in Mombasa.
The nurses now want the Health CS to apologise for releasing the test results in the wrong forum. They said Mr Kagwe should not have revealed the results to the public.
“He ridiculed us before other health workers, a test is supposed to be private and shouldn’t be discussed in public, it was wrong for the CS to release such a report without informing the examinees,” said Knun Deputy Secretary-General Morris Opetu.
They questioned why Cuban doctors working in Kenyan public hospitals were not subjected to English and Kiswahili languages proficiency tests. They defended their colleagues saying they were ill-prepared for the test.
“Nursing issues should be private and to the nurses only. Kenya is an English-speaking nation and we speak the Queen's language, therefore you cannot tell us that over 300 nurses failed,” he added.
Kisumu branch Knun secretary Anne Owiti expressed her disappointment over the CS’s remarks.
“Exams are supposed to be handled with a lot of confidentiality. The government disappointed us by failing to adequately prepare our colleagues. Nurses did their English test way back in Form Four and were ill-prepared,” said Ms Owiti.
She urged the UK government to stop subjecting Kenyan nurses to English language proficiency tests.
“From pre-school to secondary, colleges and universities we have been doing our examinations in English, we don’t know why you have to subject us to the same. We are helping you address your shortages, why frustrate us?” asked Ms Owiti.
The union urged the ministry to address their remuneration issues.
“Nurses that had gone to the UK before the Kenyan government signed the bilateral agreement with the UK were being paid between Sh600,000 to Sh800,000, therefore, we are demanding that nurses in Kenya should be paid three-quarters of that sum,” said Mr Opetu.
“We laud the government for exporting labour abroad but they should prepare the nurses first,” said Ms Florence Munoru, a nursing lecturer at Karatina University.
“All nurses should be given equal opportunities. Before the announcement was made, the CS should have called our nurses’ union leaders and revealed the matter to mitigate it instead of announcing it to the clinical officers,” said Ms Munoru.
Jobless Kenyan nurses and other health workers recently got a chance to work in the UK as part of a new scheme requested by Kenya this year.
The unemployed health workers were meant to serve in the UK’s National Health Service before returning home. The deal is similar to the one made by Kenya and Cuba, which saw the Kenya government get 100 Cuban doctors.