BY Phyllis Mbanje
SENIOR doctors at public hospitals yesterday downed tools as they declared incapacitation, joining their junior counterparts who have been protesting for over a month, in another blow to an already stuttering public health sector.
The latest development is set to plunge the health delivery system further into chaos with patients bearing the brunt of the deadlock between the doctors and their employer.
A senior doctor at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals told NewsDay that they could no longer perform their duties due to incapacitation caused by erosion of their meagre salaries.
“Since there has been no communication from the Health ministry following our communication on Tuesday which warned of this, we are withdrawing our services,” the doctor, who requested anonymity for professional reasons, said.
The source, however, said they were more than ready to meet with their employer for further negotiations.
“We are awaiting the formal communication from the ministry, then as senior doctors, we will meet to discuss,” the doctor added.
Yesterday, the situation at public health institutions such as Parirenyatwa and Harare Central hospitals was dire as patients milled around with no one to attend to them. Some who had come as early as 8am were still to be attended to by mid-day.
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The casualty department was full to capacity with some patients having spent days coming to the facility.
At Chitungwiza Central Hospital, only emergency cases were being attended to. “The only cases being attended to are the emergency ones,” said a source.
Commenting on the situation, Parirenyatwa Hospital spokesperson Linos Dhire appealed to the negotiating parties to resolve the sticking issues without delay.
“The situation on the ground requires some urgent compromise. We believe that the common denominator in the negotiations should be the best interests of the patient,” he said.
Health Services Board (HSB) chairperson Paulinas Sikhosana said efforts had been made to engage doctors together with the rest of the other health workers’ associations in collective bargaining for cost of living adjustment (Cola).
“Doctors are part of the bipartite negotiations which took place in September with regards to Cola and an agreement was made, which the doctors later disowned after the signing of the same agreement,” he said.
“One of the key issues of the Cola agreement was that engagements would continue on health specific allowances.”
Government, later in another meeting, offered a review of all the health specific allowances, but the workers immediately rejected it.
The same meeting then agreed to establish a technical committee mandated to further work on an alternative framework of reviewing all health specific allowances, a framework which is now under consideration by government.
Sikhosana said the HSB has an open door policy for dialogue outside the negotiation forum and that the senior doctors were welcome.
“We had an informal meeting to discuss issues on Cola and its payment. The health workers demanded a review of the health specific allowances. The HSB is presently seized with this matter and has engaged Treasury,” he said.
Contacted for comment, Health ministry secretary Agnes Mahomva said she was in a meeting and had not responded to question sent to her by the time of going to print.
Government recently warned that it would withdraw salaries for the striking doctors, but the latter laughed off the threat.