Doctors back at work . . . 80 resume duty, 282 to return by monthend

The Chronicle

Harare Bureau

At least 80 junior doctors were back at work by yesterday and another 282 are expected to join them by the beginning of next month at the latest.

Part of the incentives to get junior doctors back to work was an offer by the Higher Life Foundation (HLF) to provide medical scholarships of $5 000 a month from the beginning of next year, and yesterday the foundation said 362 of the 365 who applied had been awarded the scholarships. Any of the remaining 282 not yet back at work who join the 80 promptly will receive the scholarship for December as well.

The Health Services Board confirmed that 80 doctors had applied and signed resumption of duty forms by midday yesterday.

All central hospitals, including Harare Central Hospital, which had been incorrectly reported over the weekend by social media as closed, are operational although most continue to operate below capacity. The exception is Chitungwiza Central Hospital which now has 19 of its dismissed 20 doctors back on duty and is operating normally.

Patients seeking services at Harare Central Hospital and Chitungwiza Central Hospital were not waiting for long yesterday before being attended to, although at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals patients were being attended to but non-critical cases had long waits.

Chitungwiza Central Hospital chief executive officer, Dr Enock Mayida yesterday said 19 of the 20 doctors who had been dismissed were all reporting for work, joining the 17 consultant doctors who provide specialist services to the hospital and who never withdrew their labour. The hospital has about 60 junior and senior doctors.

Harare Central Hospital chief executive officer Dr Tinashe Dobbie dispelled rumours that his hospital had been closed owing to the doctors’ strike. While it was still operating below capacity, no patients were being turned away.

Patients who routinely receive treatment at Harare Hospital confirmed that patients were still receiving medical attention from available health personnel, which includes an understrength complement of doctors. 

A visit to some of the hospital’s critical stations namely casualty, outpatients, intensive care unit (ICU), male and female wards, renal, neonatal, and maternity unit showed that while the number of patients receiving treatment was much lower than those normally attended to under normal circumstances, the institution never closed all its doors to the public as widely circulated on social media.

But some wards were combined at the beginning of the strike to match with the limited number of doctors reporting for duty.

One of the patients interviewed in B8 male ward, Mr Tonderai Chingani, said he was admitted last Thursday and has been receiving treatment. “When I came here I could not even talk, my blood pressure was very high and I was in a bad shape. But I have now fully recovered following the assistance I have been receiving from nurses and doctors from this ward,” he said.

The ward was manned by a team of nurses and a doctor when our Harare Bureau visited.

Another patient receiving dialysis services at the hospital’s renal unit confirmed that he never missed his sessions either last week or this week. “I receive my dialysis here twice every week on Mondays and Thursdays and ever since I was put on dialysis, I have been getting my sessions as scheduled,” said Mr Chrispen Katsamba.

He, however, appealed to doctors to return to work saying in as much as he and other kidney patients were getting their dialysis services, they also needed the doctors to monitor progress of their treatment.

When our team visited the renal unit, all the eight working dialysis machines were occupied, with nurses manning the ward indicating that the afternoon session was equally fully booked. As of Friday, Harare Central Hospital had recorded 10 doctors who had resumed duty but latest figures were not available.

Officials from Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals could not provide the exact number of doctors who had returned for duty by end of day yesterday saying they were still compiling the figures. 

Although he could not provide statistics on how many doctors have so far turned up for work, Mpilo Central Hospital chief executive officer Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said more doctors had been trickling in even after expiration of the moratorium. 

No official comment could be obtained from United Bulawayo Hospitals as the CEO’s mobile phone went unanswered.

HSB chairman Dr Paulinus Sikosana said although the figures were still low, more doctors keep coming back to work.

Junior doctors started reporting for work last week following a moratorium given by President Mnangagwa following the decision of the disciplinary tribunals, which had fired up to 448 junior and senior doctors for missing five days of duty without lawful excuse.

The Presidential moratorium coincided with the HLF’s offer of at least $5 000 a month, a smart phone, a Vaya carpool voucher to access the hospital for up to three trips per day, free Wi-Fi at major teaching hospitals.

In addition, HLF offered an extra once-off incentive of $5 000 to doctors who make themselves available during the festive season starting yesterday, Monday 9, December 2020.

Although the junior doctors leadership was dismissive of the moritorium and scholarship offer, the doctors themselves were more open to both, hence the large number of applications for the scholarships and the accelerating drift back to work.