Clinical Officers abandon duty as strike begins

George Gibore

Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Secretary General George Gibore during a media briefing.

Photo credit: Pool I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Clinical officers see patients in outpatient clinics, carry out tests, administer medication and carry out some procedures.

Clinical officers in public hospitals have downed tools to press for better salaries and conditions of service, according to the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO).

"I was there at the invitation of the MOH because it was a whole of country approach and we believed that all issues facing our health system would be discussed without looking at them in a piecemeal way," said Kenya Union of Clinical Officers secretary-general George Gibore.

He further said: By that time, we had already issued our demand letter, which has not been responded to."

According to Gibore, the union has been locked in a protracted battle with the government since 2017 to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that addresses the concerns of clinical officers. The lack of progress, coupled with what the union perceives as a lack of goodwill from the government, has prompted it to take industrial action.

Clinical officers see patients in outpatient clinics, carry out tests, administer medication and carry out some procedures.

"We are spread from level two to level six hospitals, where we provide different services depending on the level of training," he explained.

The country's healthcare system could now be heading for intensive care.

Already, some hospitals are turning away patients who rely on the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) for certain treatments such as dialysis, citing a lack of government reimbursement.

This comes as the NHIF transitions to a new social health insurance scheme, the Social Health Insurance (SHA), which is currently facing operational hurdles.

Even those seeking care through private means are now facing long waiting times and a severe shortage of doctors in public hospitals. The ongoing doctors' strike, now in its 19th day, has crippled an already strained system. 

The doctors' strike began in early March and has already caused major disruption in hospitals across the country. Patients with chronic illnesses, those needing surgery and even emergencies are facing a shortage of qualified medical staff. With clinical officers joining the fray, the situation has become even more dire.

On March 21, the air was thick with tension as the government and the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) held their second mediation meeting at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC). Representatives from both sides sat across the table, but the body language of KUCO officials, who were also present, remained a mystery. Their pensive demeanour gave no clue as to whether they were sympathetic to the doctors' cause or siding with the government.

Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that it had initiated the deployment of 1,270 Diploma Clinical Officer trainees.

KUCO is demanding that the government address 10 critical issues before they return to work. These include the pending implementation of the 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the continued delay in salaries and promotions, and the failure to implement approved staffing arrangements for the interns.

The union is also calling for a significant increase in staffing levels to meet the growing demand for health services, especially in the context of the government's push for Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

"We currently have a total of 32,000 fully registered clinical officers. After the government has employed 7,800 and 800 on contract, which means we still have more than 20,000 clinical officers who are yet to be employed," he offered. "We have been negotiating back and forth without much progress," he added.

Despite a recent salary increase for graduate interns - from Sh15,000 to Sh38,000 - KUCO's Gibore expressed concern that these increases don't correspond to the staff establishments that assign them to a particular job group.

"For example, health workers in job group H are usually paid around Sh69,000. We agreed to employ graduate clinical officers because there was evidence that their salaries would be increased. However, we refused to do the same for degree interns after the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) planned to reduce their salaries," he said.

Talks between KUCO and the Ministry of Health began yesterday with Public Health PS Mary Muthoni at the negotiating table. But by press time, there had been no breakthrough.

"We're working through the issues," said the KUCO spokesperson, "and there are no plans to call off the strike yet. Some of our ten demands are urgent priorities. These include the implementation of the 2020 establishment plan, the payment of health risk allowances and the finalisation of the career development framework. If these immediate concerns were addressed, we would have grounds to engage.