At least eight people died from the effects of the countrywide nurses’ strike which entered its second day on Tuesday.
Seven died between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning at Coast Provincial General Hospital in Mombasa County and the other one in Samburu on the first day.
By last evening, there was no indication of the strike and suffering of patients at public hospitals ending as the Salaries and Remuneration Commission blamed governors for the stalemate.
SRC chairperson Sarah Serem claimed her commission was being used as a scapegoat.
In February, SRC had advised the Council of Governors on the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) process, she said, and her team had provided a framework to guide the negotiations.
Their engagement with the CoG showed that the “governors feel the whole negotiations” that saw last year’s strike called off in December was erroneous, she said.
“In fact, at a meeting with them yesterday (Monday), the negotiating team owned up that they had not tabled what they had promised the nurses before the Council of Governors,” said Ms Serem.
On May 17, Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu asked county governments to pay doctors and nurses their salaries and allowances as the “counties have the money in their accounts”.
Dr Mailu on Tuesday showed the Nation a payment schedule for nearly Sh3.2 billion disbursed to the counties on May 12, 2017 by the ministry to cater for the new allowances of more than 27,000 nurses and doctors.
Labour CS Phylis Kandie has invited the CoG, the nurses’ union and the Health Principal Secretary to a conciliation meeting in a bid to end the strike that threatens to paralyse the country’s health sector.
The CoG have registered a trade dispute with the Labour ministry concerning the Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) draft CBA.
The two-page letter to Mrs Kandie dated June 6 states that the SRC had written to the County Public Service Boards that the financial items in the CBA were not supported by evidence of budgetary allocations as proof of affordability and sustainability.
As such, the SRC could not issue a go-ahead as there was no proof of availability of funds, the county bosses said.
CoG chief executive Jacqueline Mogeni further wrote that the Mrs Kandie’s office “urgently initiate a conciliation process to have the Kenya National Union of Nurses call off the strike and come back to the negotiation table”.
Mrs Kandie’s letter asked the parties to meet at the NSSF building on Wednesday.
“In order to avoid unbearable suffering that Kenyans will undergo as a result of the strike, I’m urgently, under Section 70 of the Labour Regulations Act, 2007, inviting you for a conciliation meeting,” wrote Mrs Kandie.
Mrs Kandie plans to hold three sessions: A 10am meeting with Knun officials, 11am talks with the employer and a 11.30am joint conciliation meeting with all the parties.
Knun began their strike on Monday, claiming that the CoG had refused to implement the CBA with acting secretary-general Maurice Opetu accusing the governors of being insensitive to their plight.
But on Monday, the CoG, through its chairman, Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok, and Health Committee chair James Ongwae (Kisii), shifted the blame to the SRM.
The duo said they had presented a draft proposal of Sh40.3 billion to SRM and were awaiting a no-objection letter to implement the CBA.
However, Mr Nanok had indicated that the money the nurses wanted might require huge readjustments of both levels of governments’ budgets to accommodate them.
On Tuesday, it was a pathetic sight as hundreds of patients and their families were turned away from public hospitals as the nurses stayed away. Others spent hours unattended with some in critical condition succumbing to their illnesses.
Confirming the deaths at the Coast’s largest referral hospital, the county’s Health Chief Officer Khadija Shikely however said three patients who died in the ward were critically ill and had been receiving treatment.
“We cannot say they have died as a result of the strike,” said Dr Shikely. “Currently, we have 70 nurses who are working on contract; we have distributed them to our health centres.”
A senior nurse who sought anonymity however said the facility was largely deserted on Tuesday, when three patients died, while three others died upon arrival.
“One of the patients was from Tana Delta in Tana River and two others had been referred from private clinics,” said the nurse.
“They have been give one hour to vacate the facility,” said an intern doctor. “Everything is on hold. Nurses are the ones who take care of these mothers here; now that they are not in, there’s no one to look after them.”
Mr Joseph Manu, 46, said he had not been attended to by either nurses or doctors since the crisis began.
Knun Homa Bay County Branch executive secretary George Bola said government officers had not engaged them since the strike began.
“They have not met us to iron out our grievances despite the pain and suffering by patients,” said Mr Bola.
However, County Health Executive Lawrence Koteng’ said measures were being put in place to contain the crisis.
“We are doing what we can to end it,” said Dr Koteng’. “We plan to meet the striking nurses.”
In Kisumu, only doctors were working but only attended to desperate cases.
Those who required a nurse were turned away. Maternity wards and the antenatal care department was worst hit as expectant mothers who had gone for check-ups found no one to serve them.
In Nyamira, Health Chief Officer Douglas Bosire threatened to hire nurses to keep county referral and sub-county hospitals operational.
“As a temporary measure, we may be forced to hire some nurses if the situation worsens,” said Mr Bosire.
In Migori, 550 nurses from the eight sub-counties insisted that they will not resume duty until their grievances were addressed.
“Don’t bother coming to the public hospitals because we will not be there to admit or to treat patients,” nurse Mary Atieno told patients.
Two expectant mothers admitted to the Kakamega General Hospital were also discharged.
Western Regional Prisons Commander Nicholas Emase said the influx of patients at their facility had led to a stock-out of medicines.
In Vihiga, Knun branch secretary Caleb Maloba said all nurses stayed away from work. He said local Knun members had abandoned street protests but will not resume duty yet.
Said Mr Maloba: “We have left much of the engagements to our national office in Nairobi.”
Clinical officers at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital said they were overwhelmed with the workload.
“We are doing most of the work—including admitting patients, administering drugs, making routine check-ups and all the work that falls under the nurses’ docket,” a clinical officer lamented. “The work is too much yet this is only the second day.”
Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong said: “We can’t sign the agreement when the Salaries and Remuneration Commission has not finalised part of its bargain, to bring out exactly what are we are going to sign.”
The situation was also dire in Nakuru, Nyandarua, Laikipia and Samburu.
Frustration, disappointment and pain was evident at the Nakuru Level Five Hospita. Patients were turned away while consultation rooms remained closed as doctors stayed away in solidarity with the nurses.
Expectant mothers who arrived after 10am were told to return this morning for ante-natal services.
At Langalanga Sub-County Hospital, however, it was business as usual and patients were attended to.
At the Nyahururu County Referral Hospital in Laikipia, wards were deserted and only a few patients were still at the facility. In Samburu, doctors took up the role of care givers.
More than 70 patients had been withdrawn from Nanyuki County Referral Hospital by their relatives.
Hospital superintendent Sammy Kilonzo said the number of patients in the wards had reduced from 206 on Monday to 126 yesterday morning.
In Nyeri, divisions marred the strike as some nurses defied calls by their officials to boycott work.
Patients flocked health facilities even as a group of nurses held demonstrations in Karatina Township.
Knun branch secretary Beatrice Nduati however maintained that the strike was successful.
Her words were echoed by Tharaka-Nithi branch secretary Kenneth Micheni at Chuka County Referral Hospital.