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Patients continue to suffer as nurses’ union officials clash over strike

Kenyan nurses have been thrown into confusion not knowing whether to resume duty or to continue staying away from duty after top union officials clashed on the status of their national strike.

The Kenya national union of nurses (Knun) secretary-general Seth Panyako and his deputy Maurice Opetu differed on Sunday after Mr Opetu announced a deal had been reached with the government on a return-to-work formula and called off the strike.

Moments later, Mr Panyako dismissed the said agreement insisting such decision could only be made by the union’s top organ and maintained the strike is still on.

Nurses at Coast Provincial General Hospital are yet to resume duty despite a call by their national union officials asking them to return to work immediately after calling of the strike on Sunday.

A few accident patients who were admitted at the orthopaedic ward said their wounds were yet to be dressed.

“The theatre staff have already brought bandages and medicine for dressing us but we have not yet seen any nurse we are still waiting,” said one of the patients with a broken leg.

The maternity ward, ward 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 also remained shut and no nurse could be seen.

Only the new born unit remained open as the cleaning staff and security guards remained the only staff at the hospital.

However, the union’s chairman John Bii, Deputy Secretary Maurice Opetu and the assistant Chief Trustee Alice Oreng had on Sunday announced that they had signed a return-to-work deal with the government, called off the strike and asked nurses to resume work.

This went on even as their Mombasa branch union secretary Peter Muroko said that nurses are ‘confused’ with the division between their national union officials in calling of the strike.

“I am currently in Nairobi to address some of the ‘confusions’ experienced on Sunday morning. The nurses too are confused with the two decisions relayed in the media,” Mr Muroko said in response to whether Mombasa nurses will resume duty.

Mr Panyako had said the three officials who inked the deal, are not mandated to sign any agreements on behalf of the union and to call off the strike.

The agreement with the government will see nurses receive allowances of between Sh15,000 to Sh20,000, depending on their respective job groups.

Mr Panyako had alleged that his colleagues’ decision to call off the industrial action was driven by personal greed.

CONSULTANTS ON CALL

In Nairobi, residents accessed health services in some major health facilities like Mama Lucy Kibaki, Mbagathi and Pumwani hospitals even as nurses were still confused with the direction their strike had taken.

Services in the Level Four hospitals was being offered by consultants.

In a phone interview, the Nairobi county executive Bernard Muia said that the doctor’s strike only affected maternity services and inpatient.

“The strike did not hit us hard as we had consultants and doctors beyond borders attending to patients in our hospitals while in level two and one, nurses did not join in the strike,” said Dr Muia.

Dr Muia told the Nation that the hospitals had been offering immunisations, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy, comprehensive care like Tuberculosis and ARVs to patients.

However the county assembly chairman health committee Manoah Mboku said that the situation in the county hospitals was terrible as they lacked essential drugs and food.

He cited that the hospitals have acute drug shortage after City Hall failed to clear the Sh15 million debt to the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa).

Mr Mboku said that the hospitals could also not offer maternity services as City Hall had failed to reimburse the funds meant for free maternity from the national government to the hospitals.

He cited Mama Lucy and Mbagathi hospital as the worst hit by cash crunch meant for maternity saying that mothers had been forced to carry food from home and even soap.

He said that hospital cleaners were only using water without soap to clean the facility due to lack of funds to buy soap.

Dr Muia, however, admitted that the county had received Sh45 million for free maternity and will be disbursed this week.

He added that Kemsa had supplied about 65 per cent of drugs and the rest was from donors.

Dr Muia denied that expectant mothers seeking services at Mbagathi and Mama Lucy hospitals were carrying soap and food explaining that there was no service being offered as no since services were paralysed when the strike was called.

CALL IGNORED

Elsewhere in Kitui County, nurses kept away from their work stations as they took advantage of the clash among their union leadership and the new twist over their strike.

This is despite a call to resume duty by a faction of the nurses’ leadership that a Sh7 billion return-to-work agreement had been inked.

A spot check by the Nation on Monday morning established that no doctor or nurse had reported to work at Kitui General and Mwingi Level Four hospitals among other public health facilities in the county.

After signing of the agreement, Knun deputy general-secretary Maurice Opetu advised all nurses in the country to return to work immediately.

Dozens of patients reportedly died last week in various parts of the country following the industrial action by the health workers.

However, families of most patients have since taken their ailing kin home while others have transferred them to private facilities.

Those who have suffered fractured limbs and put on traction are the only ones remaining in the facilities as they have been rendered immobile.

Dr Thomas Maluki, a Knun official in Kitui, said the nurses will only resume duty once the union’s national governing council announces the decision.

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