Workers, MPs reject move to sack striking doctors

This screengrab from a video circulated on social media on December 12 shows some intern doctors who have vowed to maintain their strike until their concerns are addressed. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The leaders have called for dialogue and asked the Health ministry to immediately withdraw the letter.

The heads of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu) and the parliamentary Health Committee, have asked the Ministry of Health not to terminate the training of striking medical interns in hospitals.

Mr Usher Wilson Owere, the Notu chairman general, in an interview with Daily Monitor yesterday, warned that other workers are already mobilising themselves for a strike alongside the interns if the ministry implements the directive.

“There is a high level of arrogance by top management of the ministry [of Health]. They don’t want to listen to workers, which is very unfortunate,” he said.

Both Mr Owere and Dr Charles Ayume, the head of the parliamentary Health Committee told this newspaper that the ministry should value dialogue because the interns have a legitimate reason.

The two were reacting to the new orders from the Ministry of Health that the striking medical interns should vacate hospital premises in one week and find their own way to complete their internship training outside government arrangements.

In a December 10 letter written to all hospital directors, Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director-general of Health Services, said the striking medical interns should leave to “pave way for the new medical interns that are due to start in the year 2022.”

“As soon as funds for the enhancement of medical interns’ allowances are released by Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, the Ministry of Health will pay their arrears up to the time the medical interns went on strike. All those who went on strike will find their own way of completing their second rotation in order to be signed off,” Dr Mwebesa wrote.

The medical interns have been on strike since November 6 over the delayed implementation of the enhancement of their allowance.  There is slightly more than 1,400 medical interns including doctors, graduate nurses and pharmacists in 42 hospitals.  

Mr Usher Wilson Owere, the Notu chairman general and Dr Charles Ayume, the head of the parliamentary Health Committee. PHOTO/COMBO

The interns are supposed to undergo one-year training to get practising licence from their professional bodies.  

Dr Lilian Nabwire, the president of Federation for Uganda Medical Interns, said they are remaining with two months to complete the training.

Mr Owere said he is offering himself to mediate the dialogue between interns and the ministry.  “There was a lot of effort by the President to dialogue with the interns and an agreement was reached,” he said, while asking the ministry to withdraw the letter.

Dr Ayume said he was surprised by the ministry’s directive.

“I know both the leadership of the Ministry of Health and Interns/Uganda Medical Association have been in discussions to try and resolve the impasse of the strike. Other notable engagements have been with H.E the President, Rt Hon Prime Minister and the parliamentary Committee on Health and certain resolutions were made,” he said.

Dr Nabwire said they took the risk to strike so that the next coming medical interns would find a better welfare.

Dr Leonard Mutebi, the leader of pre-interns (incoming interns) from Makerere University, said they need the implementation of the salary enhancement.

“We are so much disappointed because the Ministry of Health is like our mother –where we run to. Such directives of ordering the current interns on strike to vacate will not work...” he said.

Dr Emmanuel Tugaineyo, the head of Mbale Regional Referral Hospital, said he would implement the directive. 

Dr Celestine Barigye, the director of the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, said he was still occupied and couldn’t give a comment about the directive.

Museveni’s directive
President Museveni had in an August 9 letter directed the government to increase the allowance of medical interns from Shs750,000 to Shs2.5 million. But this has not been implemented, according to Dr Nabwire.

The President’s letter had followed a May 2021 industrial action were about 1,403 medical interns working in 42 hospitals across the country went on a sit-down strike over low pay and poor working conditions.

Mr Museveni had in a separate meeting in June at State House Entebbe also told the doctors that each of them will get Shs5 million as a starting salary starting July 2021, reaffirming his earlier position.    

Currently, a medical doctor earns Shs3 million.