My hands are tied: CS Nakhumicha on the question of Intern doctors

Health CS Susan Nakhumicha during the launch of the Health Emergency Preparedness, Response and Resilience Programme for Eastern and Southern Africa. BONFACE BOGITA
Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha has said that her hands are tied on the posting and payment of medical interns.

She announced that the government will immediately start posting some 552 interns at the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) recommended rate of Sh70,000 per month as she awaits the outcome of a court case on the same matter on September 26.

Speaking to the Nation on Tuesday evening and through a statement, the CS apologised to the interns for the pain, anguish, psychological torture and frustration they have endured for almost two years.

“The Ministry of Health (MoH) is cognizant of the negative impact created by the continued delays in the posting of interns. We empathise with our young doctors, who have had to endure untold psychological trauma and financial hardship, even as we work round the clock to find a practical solution to the prevailing situation,” she said.

The CS explained that the return-to-work agreement signed by the government and the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) on May 8 contained a proposal on how to unlock the stalemate.

“Whereas KMPDU preferred that an intern be posted based on the 2017 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) rates of Sh206,400 per month, the realities of the fiscal space coupled with the withdrawal of the Finance Bill 2024 cannot permit this,” Ms Nakhumicha said.

She added that it is the desire of the ministry to post all the interns immediately, which is why it will begin by posting 552 interns immediately, with the rest following as more resources become available.

The CS noted that since January 2023, the ministry has posted 4,156 interns across the six cadres, including 1,735 doctors— 1,214 medical officers, 496 pharmacists and 25 dentists at a monthly pay of Sh206,400.

According to the ministry, the exponential increase in the number of training institutions churning graduates, the cost of internship has progressively outstripped the available financial resources. This, it said, had created a growing backlog of graduates awaiting posting.

The CS further disclosed that the court case notwithstanding, the parties agreed to continue pursuing a consensus within 60 days that ended on Sunday.

“So far numerous meetings have been held with good progress made towards achieving consensus. Of note is that both parties agree on the need for the interns to be posted without further delay,” she said.

Ms Nakhumicha acknowledged the impact of the delayed postings and advised the interns across the cadres to report to their internship centres pending the resolution of the pay issue.

The CS assured Kenyans that the ongoing discussions between KMPDU and the Health Ministry, and all other consultations with relevant government departments and agencies, will resolve the current impasse and see the young doctors get their careers back on track.

“Following the gazettement of the presidential task force to address long-standing issues on human resources for health, the ministry is optimistic that the task force will come up with recommendations on how to deal with the internship issue permanently, “she said.

KMPDU Secretary-General Davji Atellah maintained that they would go back to the streets if all intern issues are not fully addressed.