Patients left to own devices as health workers' strike bites

nurses strike

Relatives wheel their patients at the Kakamega County General Hospital on December 7, 2020. 

Photo credit: Isaac Wale| Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A spot check by the Nation found patients lying helpless in beds with some relatives preferring to transfer them to private facilities.
  • And in Elgeyo Marakwet County, nurses and clinical officers deserted their work stations, bringing services to a standstill.

Mr Morrison Njeru,60, complained of difficulty in breathing yesterday and was rushed to the Embu County Referral Hospital.

His son, Edwin Munene, said their father was suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes but they were optimistic he would get help in the hospital.

But they were stunned on arrival at the hospital to find that a strike by health workers had paralysed operations. He could not be admitted and they had to frantically look for other options. They took him to a private hospital where he died while being treated.

Mr Njeru became a casualty of the dangerous standoff between the government and health workers who went on strike yesterday.  Doctors had called off their strike on Sunday night but nurses, clinical officers and other health workers boycotted duty, paralysing operations in public hospitals and deepening the health crisis already aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yesterday, Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Embu branch chairman Nthiga Njoka said the health workers were suffering and would not resume work.

And the chairman of the local branch of the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN), Mr Macharia Kanderi, said the workers had been overburdened because the County had refused to employ more staff. At the Bungoma County Referral Hospital, patients who had come from as far as Mt Elgon and Malaba border found no one to attend to them.

Private facilities

A spot check by the Nation found patients lying helpless in beds with some relatives preferring to transfer them to private facilities. Anne Nanjala from Kaposokwony in Mt Elgon whose husband had been admitted at the facility since last week on Friday said that her husband was supposed to be operated on and she was worried he was getting worse.

Pleading with the medics to return to work, Health chief officer Patrick Wandili said: “We have tried to pay our health workers on time, we have promoted many and others are still being vetted by the county public service board awaiting promotion.”

Other hospitals in Webuye, Kimilili, Kaposokwony, Chwele and Bumula were not affected by the strike. Nurses in Uasin Gishu County were only attending to emergencies but disclosed that on Wednesday, they will engage in a full-blown strike.

“Strike commenced today at a low momentum because we are still attending to emergency cases but from Wednesday, we will not render any service,” said Simon Kibii, an official of the nurses’ union.

And in Elgeyo Marakwet County, nurses and clinical officers deserted their work stations, bringing services to a standstill.

"We are operating in very risk environment. We need our health allowances increased from Sh3,000 to Sh30,000. The life and insurance cover we are given is also not comprehensive and doesn't cover us with our families," said the county secretary general for the clinical officers’ union, Mr Mark Kipsang.

In Nyanza and Western, intern doctors and nurses on locum duties reported to work. In Nyamira, county officials convened a crisis meeting.

Union officials led by the county Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) Secretary Mr Bernard Kerosi dismissed the meeting saying they had not been invited.

In Kakamega County, 1,330 nurses joined the strike. Patients who visited the County General Hospital for treatment were attended to by locum nurses and intern doctors. Health Services Executive Collins Matemba said they were still assessing the situation.

Services paralysed

Local KNUN officials led by the secretary, Mr Renson Bulunya, said services in 177 health facilities had been paralysed.

“The county officials are not interested in engaging us in any negotiations on the issues we have raised. We are therefore pushing on with the strike until our demands are fully addressed," said Mr Bulunya.

In Busia County, Governor Sospeter Ojaamong told nurses that the devolved unit did not have money to pay them the salary increments and allowances they were demanding.

In Busia County, KNUN branch secretary Isaiah Omondi said nurses and clinical officers downed tools on Monday, leaving patients unattended in the wards. He said 600 nurses were taking part in the strike.

"Currently, we have a colleague who succumbed to Covid-19 and we are contributing to raise Sh3.2 million to offset hospital and mortuary bills," said Mr Omondi.

Nurses in Homa Bay have also downed their tools. Acting KNUN secretary Omondo Nyonje told union members not to report to work until all their grievances are addressed.

“Some of the affected groups are nurses contracted under the universal health coverage. Some of them are not receiving their salaries in full,” said Mr Nyonje.

Private facilities

Health Executive Gerald Akeche said medics had not approached county officials for negotiations

In Kisumu County, the strike forced relatives to transfer patients to private facilities.

The County Director for Health, Dr Gregory Ganda, said arrangements had been made to hire nurse on contract while negotiating with the healthcare workers.

“In major hospitals such Jaramogi Odinga Oginga Teaching and Referral and Kisumu County Referral Hospital, we have contracted nurses. It a matter of distributing them in emergency and maternity departments,” said Dr Ganda.

Reported by George Munene, Brian Ojamaa, Onyango K’onyango, Evans Kipkura, Benson Amadala, Shaban Makokha, George Odiwuor, Elizabeth Ojina and Benson Ayienda