Doctors’ strike affecting service delivery, say officials

New Mulago wome'ns hospital

What you need to know:

  • Their strike is coming amid recent protests by pre-intern (qualified medical workers), who should undergo internship to get practicing lincences from their respective professional bodies.

The Ministry of Health has appealed to the senior house officers (SHOs), who started striking yesterday over payment arrears, to resume work to minimise effects on service delivery and disruption of their learning.

Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director general of Health Services at the ministry, made the appeal at Mulago hospital yesterday during a medical camp, which will end today.  

“We have been discussing with SHOs, they don’t need to go on strike because we are still discussing with the Finance ministry [to release their money]. We don’t want them to use strike as a means to get what they want,” he said.

Dr Mwebesa added: “The strike will disrupt their academic performance. I think it is not the best strategy. They should focus on dialogue, discussion and meeting to address their issues.”

The SHOs, 693 in number, are qualified doctors who are training to become specialists while serving in public hospitals.

The carders said they are striking because they have not been paid their allowances of four to six months and yet the government is planning to stop giving them allowances in the next financial year. The SHOs, based on year 2021 directive by President Museveni, are supposed to be paid Shs2.5m every month to sustain them.

Their strike is coming amid recent protests by pre-intern (qualified medical workers), who should undergo internship to get practicing lincences from their respective professional bodies.

The Uganda Medical Association (UMA), said some pre-interns have waited for internship for about nine months so far, a problem doctors said has affected service delivery in public facilities and would affect the chain of recruiting doctors. 

The UMA said SHOs and interns do carry around 70 percent of workload in public facilities. However, the Health ministry has said they don’t have money to pay interns and SHOs.

Dr Rosemary Byanyima, the acting executive director of Mulago hospital, said during the same medical camp, that absence of interns and SHOs reduces efficiency in service delivery because of few doctors and consultants employed by the government.

She said as part of training of SHOs, they do work alongside specialists who are already qualified.

“SHOs are expected to have some output as part of their training because this is a scheme that you work alongside your trainer so that you acquire that skill as you learn to become specialists,” Dr Byanyima said.

She explained that when the hospital gets SHOs and medical interns, they are included on a timetable and match them with consultants.

“It is a team. So, when one part is not available, it strains the care because most time you find that junior doctors do the preliminary examining of patients and they present to the next person in the hierarchy,” she said.

Dr Byanyima added: “The junior health officer will present to senior health officer and the senior health officer will summarise and present to the consultant. 

The consultants are fewer.”

She said when interns and SHOs are removed, “you will be telling me that the specialists are the ones to receive patients, take history and do minor procedures which is the waste of resources. We need all the carders in place.”

About the ongoing medical camp, Dr Byanyima said they are emphasising preventive care.

Dr Robert Lubega, the head of SHOs, told this newspaper that the government has not yet reached out to them. 

“Our strike continues as it is. We are providing skeletal staff at the moment,” he said.

Dr Andrew Muyanga, the SHOs’ publicity secretary, on the other hand, said: “This is not a new development. We are not surprised. For months, we have been reaching out to various offices within the Ministry of Health but have never got even a single official response from any official there. Instead, we see them talking to news outlets and often openly misinforming the public about the true state of our health system,” he said.