Chaos as govt fires over 200 doctors

BY VANESSA GONYE

GOVERNMENT yesterday fired 211 doctors at public hospitals for going o strike to demand better pay, with another 500 at risk.

Doctors have been on strike since September 3 demanding salaries that are indexed to the United States dollar to escape triple digit inflation that has ravaged wages.

The Health Services Board fired the doctors after holding disciplinary hearings which the striking doctors did not attend and said it planned to hold another round of hearings for at least 516 out of the 1 601 doctors employed in the public sector.

The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, which represents junior and mid-level doctors, has accused government of intimidation to force its members to return to work.

Health Services Board (HSB) executive chairman, Paulinus Sikosana yesterday said the disciplinary hearings were set to continue.

“To date, 279 doctors have been served with charge letters, 213 hearings completed and 211 doctors found guilty of absenting themselves from duty without leave or reasonable cause for days ranging from five or more,” he said.

“The 211 doctors found guilty have been discharged from the health service. Three doctors appeared in person before the disciplinary tribunals and two doctors had their determinations reserved pending verification of their cases.”

Sikosana said at meetings aimed at ending the impasse, doctors had “demanded the pegging of their salaries to the prevailing interbank rate as a precondition for their return to work.”

Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, with inflation, estimated at 353% in September, playing havoc with salaries and prices.

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director, Itai Rusike said the decision by government was very frustrating considering efforts made to facilitate dialogue with hope of reaching an amicable decision that is comfortable for both parties.

“We have been facilitating dialogue for the past two weeks only to wake up to this. How do you negotiate for dialogue when on the other hand you are holding a knobkerrie? The government is not sincere and its attitude is uncalled for and unnecessary,” Rusike said.

“This intimidatory attitude is not the way to go. The Constitution gives them the right to withdraw their labour and firing the doctors in a country with poor health standards will not improve the situation.”

He said they had done their part in trying to get the two parties to dialogue in search of a solution to the impasse.

“We thought that the government was going to set aside the hearings and uphold dialogue. Without human resources we cannot achieve universal health coverage,” he said.
ZHDA executive members said they were not commenting on the latest developments for fear of victimisation.

“Senior doctors remain incapacitated and hospital drugs and equipment remain inadequate. No meaningful service is being offered at central hospitals,” the union said in a statement.

“Training of both undergraduate and postgraduate doctors has been severely impacted by lack of clinical teaching.

“Flexi-hour system remains in place as policy. This has greatly affected quality and continuity of patient care Junior and middle level doctors have been dismissed from work for not being able to report for duty due to incapacitation. Some on maternity leave and others who are training outside the country have also been served with letters accusing them of absenteeism.

ZHDA said the ‘punitive disciplinary hearings’ should stop while the dismissals must be reversed.

“Robust dialogue in good faith should take place with key stakeholders to help direct the capacitation of the workers and the public health institutions. These must be given timelines to yield results,” ZHDA said.