Friday, 29 November 2019

DESPERATE PATIENTS PLEAD WITH DOCS : WE ARE DYING


DESPERATE patients seeking treatment from public health institutions across the country have pleaded with junior doctors to end their impasse with Government over salaries, saying they should find it in their hearts to assist them.

The Catholic Bishops this week won doctors a 48-hour moratorium to return to work without re-applying and without questions being asked and the Higher Life Foundation has offered 2 000 doctors incentive payments of up to $5 000 a month plus Vaya coupons for transport and a free smart phone.  This is in addition to the $4 305 in salaries and allowances a month and free accommodation that the Government offered junior doctors last month. Junior doctors can also benefit from retention allowances from development partners.

The junior doctors’ leadership appears to want to continue rejecting all these offers although there is speculation that some of their members might break ranks, not having been paid for three months since they first withdrew their labour and having to leave their free accommodation today.

In a statement yesterday, the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association said the 48-hour reprieve would have carried weight if it had been accompanied by a fresh salary offer from their employer.

The doctors said they are, however, still open to dialogue but urged the bishops to first consult them on their expectations.

“We appreciate the role played by the Catholic Bishops which has resulted in the doctors being issued a moratorium, valid for the next 48 hours. Sadly, the moratorium has come without a new offer on the table having been communicated to us. Should this moratorium lapse without the formal communication of an offer that is reasonable, it would stand as yet another gracious privilege that is lost,” read the statement.

The medical practitioners acknowledged the offer from the HLF but said they would only act on it after they have ironed out their differences with Government. “It was concluded that in as much as the support from HLF is welcome, it does not address completely the demands of the doctors for a salary whose value is preserved despite soaring inflation as well as the provision of adequate and appropriate tools of trade. It was posited that the offer from HLF may be reconsidered once the standoff between the ZHDA and its Employer (HSB) has been resolved.

“This recognises the sincerity of the donor group and its desire not to interfere with the negotiation process,” reads part of the ZHDA statement.

In separate interviews, patients at the country’s public hospitals revealed that some people were dying before they even consult on their conditions because of the doctors’ absence.

Some patients said they were spending more than a week at health facilities without being attended to.

Mr Tawanda Goche, a patient who resides out of Harare, was referred to Parirenyatwa Hospital for further checks on his condition, but had not had any assistance from yesterday morning to about 5PM. “I arrived at Parirenyatwa early in the morning and they had said that they would admit me, but since morning I have not been attended to. I am still waiting and hoping that I will be attended to, even after being admitted. There is definitely need for doctors to resume work because people are going to die especially those involved in accidents,” said Mr Goche.

He said the doctors were being inconsiderate especially after the efforts by Government to address their working conditions many times.

The Higher Life Foundation (HLF) has offered about 2 000 doctors incentives of up to $5 000 per month for six months while they continue negotiating with Government, but some doctors have already indicated that they will reject the support, raising suspicion that the impasse was no longer a purely labour issue. 

“If we had enough funds, we would go to private hospitals but the situation is bad. We need our doctors back at work so that lives are saved,” Mr Goche said.

Former deputy Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Edwin Muguti also said the deadlock must end soon. “People need to be serious and respect each other. What is currently happening will not solve anything. Government and doctors must engage for a lasting solution to this challenge,” he said.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) expressed concern over the prolonged absence of doctors in health institutions. “For instance, the prolonged absence of health care professionals in the public sector exposes pregnant women into delivering at home or outside the formal health delivery system. Such practices are harmful, and have immediate and long-term negative sequel to both mothers and their babies,” reads part of their statement.

The junior doctors have turned down Government’s recent offer for a 100 percent review of on call allowances, which would have seen them earning about $4 305 a month with effect from October 1, inclusive of an on call allowance of $2 400.

The doctors are demanding a salary set in US dollars and at least equal to what they were earning before exchange rates started moving and with Zimbabwe dollar payments pegged at the interbank rate to guarantee its value against inflation.

Although some doctors in the private sector are paid between $6 000 and $8 000 a month, elsewhere in the region, doctors are earning between US$2 000 and US$3 000 a month.

In addition to the Government’s offer of $4 305, Higher Life Foundation had offered the junior doctors an extra incentive of at least $5 000 a month, a smart phone, a Vaya carpool voucher to access the hospital for up to three trips per day, and free Wi-Fi at major teaching hospitals. Higher Life also pledged to provide doctors with equipment.

Government had fired 448 doctors for continuously refusing to report for work but after being engaged by the Catholic bishops on Thursday, the Executive acceded to the clergy’s plea and gave the doctors a 48-hour moratorium to return to work. 

Both the reprieve and the deadline for applications to benefit from HLF’s incentives, coincides with the end of the month by which all the fired doctors staying in Government accommodation are expected to vacate their flats and houses.

Today, most of the doctors found guilty of absenting themselves from work for five consecutive days or more without official leave are expected to leave staff accommodation.

Salaries of those found guilty were also stopped and by end of November, they will have gone for three months without pay, raising questions on how the doctors are eking out a living.

Sources say the decision by ZHDA to continue with the stand-off was likely going to divide the doctors as some desperately need the free accommodation, the salary and additional incentives from HLF. “The reprieve will actually give some of them, who have been wanting to go back to work, an opportunity to do so without being asked any questions and at the same time apply for the HLF scholarships.

“Remember others are breadwinners and three months without a salary is just too much no matter how little the salary is,” said a source.

Taking into account all sources of income from Government, the foundation and development partners, junior doctors could see their earnings hit $10 000 a month along with their free accommodation.

Some striking doctors are reportedly surviving on locums at their seniors’ surgeries, which is an anomaly since the law permits only those in their second year to do some private practice. Herald

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