Nurses issue strike notice

HARARE - The chaos that is ravaging public hospitals is set to plumb new depths after nurses issued a notice yesterday to join medical doctors in striking over their poor working conditions.

This comes as the strike by doctors enters its third week, forcing government to deploy army medics to try and mitigate the mayhem at major public hospitals, after the State failed with its ill-advised threats to force the doctors to return to work.

At the same time, the leadership of civil servants’ unions has also warned the government that their members are fed up with its endless promises to address their grievances, including paying them their bonuses.

“We were supposed to have met with government over the bonus issue today (yesterday) and that meeting was postponed to March 6, apparently because (Finance minister Patrick) Chinamasa went on leave,” the secretary general of the nurses association, Enock Dongo  told the Daily News yesterday.

“This postponed meeting was itself supposed to have been held on February 20, and even that one was supposed to have been held much earlier.

“Our constituency has now told us that if we do not come back with bonus dates, they will be forced to engage in industrial action and not offer their services.

“Already, the nurses are overworked because they are short-staffed ... and government should look into employing more nurses as they are burnt out.

“We also have a lot of issues that we have been calling for since last year that have not been addressed,” Dongo added.

Meanwhile, the president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Edgar Munatsi, said they were continuing with their strike until the government acted on all the issues they have raised.

“The truth is there is no agreement. During Friday’s meeting, finance told us that they will look into the issues and look at how much it will cost them to increase call allowances, and they have not got back to us yet. For now our priority is the allowance,” Munatsi said.

Health ministry permanent secretary Gerald Gwinji said the doctors’ strike had exerted a lot of pressure on public hospitals, which were already struggling under the weight of a myriad other problems, including the shortage of drugs and continued under-funding by the government.

The doctors went on strike three weeks ago to press the government to honour its promises of improving their working conditions.

But stung by the strike, the government threatened that it was going to terminate the services of all doctors who continued to stay away from work — a threat that miserably failed to achieve the desired result.

Doctors want the government to revise upwards, to a minimum of $720 on call allowances for the least paid doctors, and that the Health Services Board urgently implements the agreed duty-free framework for all government doctors.

Despite the humongous problems bedevilling the public health sector, President Robert Mugabe’s misfiring government has once again allocated a measly budget to hospitals and clinics this year.

In his budget presentation in December, Chinamasa reduced the vote for health from $331 million to a disappointing $282 million — a figure that falls way short of meeting the big demands of the public health sector.

Recently, hospitals warned that they were left with two weeks’ supply of a major drug used during surgical operations — after major drug supplier, GSK, pulled out of the Zimbabwean market last year.

Last year, major referral hospitals also had to suspend many services as a result of the shortage of drugs, including painkillers — exposing how much things have fallen apart in the country since the early 2000s.

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