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Sierra Leone News: Doctors down stethoscopes in strike action

As usual Connaught hospital in Freetown is swamped with patients and their relations trying to access health from Sierra Leone’s inadequately equipped main referral hospital. However, yesterday, 4th December 2018, was different. Junior doctors started a strike action which worsened an already deplorable situation. In November, the Junior Doctors Association of Sierra Leone (JUDASIL) gave the government of Sierra Leone a 21-day ultimatum after a fruitless and inconclusive negotiations between the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and healthcare workers. The ultimatum, which was also endorsed by the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA), ended yesterday. To this end, the JUDASILA on Monday 4th December 2018, issued a public notice stating, “The entire membership of the bearing associations would like to inform the public that doctors have decided to lay down tools indefinitely starting at 12 midnight on the 4th of December 2018.” Starting from the aforementioned date, doctors nationwide will not be attending to work until demands for government to respond to their concerns are met.” The Coalition of Health Workers, made up of Young Pharmaceutical Group; Sierra Leone Association of Community Health Workers has also joined the bandwagon calling on government to meet JUDASIL demands in the next 72 hours (Thursday 2400hrs) or, “the entire membership of the various associations within the coalition of health workers will have no option but to join the doctors in laying down their tools.” Head of Connaught Hospital, Dr. Fadlu Deen, said, “Since we learned that the doctors are going on strike we were trying to put in place certain contingencies so that we would be able to cope. I managed to get some of our Nigerian doctors working… we have about five of them… one of them is a consultant and the other is a senior specialist and the other three are medical officers.” Further adding that there are also some doctors from the UK – King’s partnership “about six of them.” He disclosed that senior doctors, consultants and physicians are working. Notwithstanding, “We have some help from some Community Health Officer’s (CHO). We have about four CHOs who have been deployed in Connaught… They are usually not doctors but in cases of emergency they are assisting us.” Dr. Fadlu Deen said the emergency outpatient department offices are occupied by doctors. “In some offices you have two doctors seeing to the patient. All patients are being seen. We are not turning down any patient whether it’s emergency or usual patients they are being seen by our doctors,” he said.  Dr. Fadlu-Deen further noted that at this point they are not overwhelmed. “We just hope that things would be sorted out as soon as possible. We don’t want to be overwhelmed, for now we are coping.” “We’ve made plans to cover the hospital for 24 hours… for now we are ok. The medical officers who are here will work till 4:00 p.m. and after that two or three of them will work up to 10:00 p.m. At night we leave only about two doctors to cover the night. The wards are also being covered by the nurses for now we are ok,” he said. However, Dr. Fadlu Deen pointed out, “We don’t want it to prolong in the interest of our patients. The patients need the doctors to be around. Thus, we are appealing to our young doctors to come back to work while they are negotiating with the government because that is the best way to do things.” Sister in Charge of the Outpatient department, Cecilia Mariatu Kamara, said, “Today’s work has been very slow because the medical officers, junior doctors are the ones managing the outpatients are on strike.” “They are the ones who first examine the patients before sending them to the ward for admission. The doctors who are responsible to examine the patients we did not see them today. We are not pleased. There is lots of work… today few cases came in. Some people had to leave when they came and saw no doctors. We have Nigerian doctors but you know Sierra Leoneans prefer the Sierra Leonean doctors to treat them over the Nigerians. However, they are the ones who have been helping us at the outpatient unit.” The doctors did not discuss with us… we just heard about strike action. Two accident cases came in, the Nigerian doctors had to see them,” she narrated.  In reaction to the industrial action by the doctors in respect of salary increment and conditions of service, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation yesterday issued a statement. “It is illegal for an association with a non-negotiating agreement to give a 21 days strike action notice.” According to the MoHS the request came in after the 2019 National Budget was tabled in Parliament. However, given the critical roles that doctors and all healthcare workers perform the Ministry has engaged the Ministry of Finance and other stakeholders…” MoHS disclosed, “The Ministry of Finance has accepted to look into the proposed salary increases and cautioned that any salary increment to have come from the MoHS be reclassified for sufficient funds from the recurrent budget to be the salaries and wages sector while keeping the MoHS budget ceiling unchanged.” Also, the proposed salaries and emoluments should be for all healthcare workers and not just medical doctors. Furthermore, according to MoHS, the process was expected to be protracted as the emoluments including unique allowances had to be computed for all healthcare workers. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation wants the general public to know that this reclassification of the MoHS budget will affect the potential employment of the proposed 3,000 health workers in 2019.

OG/4/12/18

By Ophaniel Gooding

Wednesday December 05, 2018.

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