The recent 7 day strike by nurses in Mombasa County which paralyzed operations at the Coast General Hospital and other health centers in the county ought to be a wake up call to both the county and National governments.The striking nurses’ gripe with the county government was that their statutory deductions for the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and National Social Security Fund (NSSF) had not been remitted to the national government; besides also demanding dues to their union and uniform allowance.
This did not go down well with the county government. The response from the Health Secretary was to issue a threat to sack the nurses if they failed to report back to work. The official said the government has the numbers to replace the striking nurses, having advertised 52 nursing vacancies for applicants to be interviewed on 27 of this month for which it had already received over 500 applications.
There was a standoff as talks between the county government and officials of the nurses union failed to agree. At some point, doctors in the county threatened to join the strike, claiming their work was difficult without the nurses.
Many patients across hospitals in the county were left to ponder their next move as there was no one to attend to them. The worst hit were patients at Makadara and Port Reitz Hospitals. Wounds festered as they were not closed and many patients opted for discharge to look for medical services in hospitals outside the county. The number of deaths as a result of this strike is still unconfirmed, a tragedy for the people who hoped that devolution would bring better services.
The stalemate seems far from over as accusations and counter-accusations fly between the Kenya National Union of Nurses and the Mombasa County government. The union secretary general Seth Panyako claimed Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho indicated he is no longer has any interest in dialogue with the nurses. As such then, the union indicated it was putting in place measures to start negotiating directly with the national government. Mr. Panyako says the county government is ill-suited to handle matters of health.
A court order obtained by the county government compelled the nurses to return to work as talks continued. A return-to-work formula was signed before the nurses resumed work. Speaking after the agreement was signed, Mr Peter Maroko who is the Mombasa branch chairman of the nurses’ union urged all members to return to work, saying they’d be back in court if the county government fails to meet the nurses’ demands by May 2, sentiments that were shared by Mr. Panyako.
Mombasa residents will for now be relieved, while they nervously look at the ticking clock as May 2nd approaches. They can’t afford another strike and another disruption to the health services.