Patients seeking treatment from public health institutions countrywide have pleaded with junior doctors to end their impasse with the Government over salaries and find it in their hearts to assist them.
Catholic Bishops this week won doctors a 48-hour moratorium to return to work without reapplying and without questions being asked, while Higher Life Foundation has offered 2 000 doctors incentive payments of up to $5 000 a month plus Vaya coupons for transport and a free smart phone.
This is in addition to the $4 305 in salaries and allowances a month and free accommodation that the Government offered junior doctors last month.
Junior doctors can also benefit from retention allowances from development partners.
The doctors’ leadership appears to want to continue rejecting all these offers although there is speculation that some of their members might break ranks, not having been paid for three months since they first withdrew their labour and having to leave their free accommodation today.
Accident victims and those suffering from chronic diseases are the worst affected.
Doctors withdrew their labour on September 3.
When The Herald visited Parirenyatwa and Harare hospitals yesterday, patients could be seen lying under tree shades without any medical assistance.
In separate interviews, the patients said some people were dying before they even consult on their conditions because of the absence of doctors.
Other patients said they were spending over a week at hospitals without being attended to.
Mr Tawanda Goche, a patient who lives out of Harare, was referred to Parirenyatwa Hospital for further checks on his condition, but had not been attended to from yesterday morning to about 5pm when our news team arrived.
“I arrived at Parirenyatwa early in the morning and they had said that they would admit me, but since morning I have not been attended to. I am still waiting and hoping that I will be attended to, even after being admitted.
“There is definitely need for doctors to resume work because people are going to die, especially those involved in accidents,” said Mr Goche.
He said the doctors were being inconsiderate.
“If we had enough funds, we would go to private hospitals, but the situation is bad. We need our doctors back at work so that lives are saved,” he said.
Another visitor, who was waiting to see her grandchild at Harare Central Hospital, said service delivery must return to normalcy to ease challenges faced by patients and their relatives.
She described the state of affairs at the hospital as “sorry”.
“Since I was a child, I used to get my medical attention at Harare Hospital and it pains me when I see that a few people are being treated here because of withdrawal of labour by doctors. I hope that the doctors will return to work so that patients do not get stranded,” she said.
Former deputy minister of Health and Child Care Dr Edwin Muguti also said the deadlock must end soon.
“People need to be serious and respect each other. What is currently happening will not solve anything. Government and doctors must engage for a lasting solution to this challenge,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) expressed concern over the prolonged absence of doctors in health institutions.
“For instance, the prolonged absence of health care professionals in the public sector exposes pregnant women into delivering at home or outside the formal health delivery system. Such practices are harmful, and have immediate and long-term negative sequel to both mothers and their babies,” reads part of their statement.
The junior doctors have turned down Government’s recent offer for a 100 percent review of on call allowances, which would have seen them earning about $4 305 a month with effect from October 1, inclusive of an on call allowance of $2 400.
The doctors are demanding a salary set in US dollars and at least equal to what they were earning before exchange rates started moving and with Zimbabwe dollar payments pegged at the interbank rate to guarantee its value against inflation.
Although some doctors in the private sector are paid between $6 000 and $8 000 a month, elsewhere in the region, doctors are earning between US$2 000 and US$3 000 a month.
In addition to the Government’s offer of $4 305, Higher Life Foundation had offered the junior doctors an extra incentive 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, and free Wi-Fi at major teaching hospitals. Higher Life also pledged to provide doctors with equipment.
Government had fired 448 doctors for continuously refusing to report for work but after being engaged by the Catholic bishops on Thursday, the Executive acceded to the clergy’s plea and gave the doctors a 48-hour moratorium to return to work.
However, the doctors appear reluctant to take up the offer.
“We appreciate the role played by the Catholic Bishops which has resulted in the doctors being issued a moratorium, valid for the next 48 hours. Sadly, the moratorium has come without a new offer on the table having been communicated to us. Should this moratorium lapse without the formal communication of an offer that is reasonable, it would stand as yet another gracious privilege that is lost,” said the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association yesterday.
But the doctors said they remained open for dialogue although they urged the bishops to first consult them on their expectations.
Both the reprieve and the deadline for applications to benefit from HLF’s incentives, coincides with the end of the month by which all the fired doctors staying in Government accommodation are expected to vacate their flats and houses.
Today, most of the doctors found guilty of absenting themselves from work for five consecutive days or more without official leave are expected to leave staff accommodation.
Salaries of those found guilty were also stopped and by end of November, they will have gone for three months without pay, raising questions on how the doctors are eking a living.
Sources say the decision by ZHDA to continue with the stand-off was likely going to divide the doctors as some desperately need the free accommodation, the salary and additional incentives from HLF.
“The reprieve will actually give some of them, who have been wanting to go back to work, an opportunity to do so without being asked any questions and at the same time apply for the HLF scholarships.
“Remember others are breadwinners and three months without a salary is just too much no matter how little the salary is,” said a source.
Taking into account all sources of income from Government, the foundation and development partners, junior doctors could see their earnings hit $10 000 a month along with their free accommodation.
Some striking doctors are reportedly surviving on locums at their seniors’ surgeries, which is an anomaly since the law permits only those in their second year to do some private practice.