Health Sector Braces for Extended Strike as Clinical Officers Join Doctors in Protest

Clinical officers have opted to join doctors in a nationwide strike set to commence this Monday, escalating the ongoing healthcare crisis in Kenya. The looming strike comes in the wake of doctors’ prolonged absence from duty since March 14, citing grievances concerning pay disparities and unfavorable working conditions, with little progress towards resolution apparent on the horizon.

The Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) had previously issued a stern ultimatum, serving a seven-day strike notice to the government, demanding urgent attention to their concerns failing which, they vowed, they would withdraw their services indefinitely. Peterson Wachira, chairperson of KUCO, reiterated the gravity of their stance, asserting that they would not relent until their demands are met.

At the heart of their grievances lies the issue of employment terms and conditions. The union is adamant that both the national and county governments must provide confirmation letters guaranteeing permanent and pensionable terms to healthcare staff, particularly those hired during the Covid-19 pandemic and members of the national Tuberculosis program who are currently on contractual arrangements.

Furthermore, KUCO insists on immediate recruitment drives to address the severe shortage of clinical officers, urging the government to enlist over 20,000 qualified professionals to bolster healthcare provision across the country. Additionally, they call for comprehensive medical coverage for all clinical officers serving in the public sector, ensuring unfettered access to essential healthcare services.

Addressing the media in Nairobi, George Gibore, Secretary-General of KUCO, expressed deep-seated frustration over the protracted neglect by the authorities in addressing critical issues affecting clinical officers. Gibore lamented the stalled progress in finalizing the Collective Bargaining Agreement initiated in 2017, emphasizing that the prolonged impasse has hindered efforts to enhance healthcare delivery and impeded the realization of Universal Health Coverage.

The lack of concurrence from the Council of Governors on budget allocations for Universal Health Coverage staff further exacerbates the deadlock, according to Gibore. Moreover, he highlighted the absence of career progression opportunities for clinical officers, citing prolonged periods without promotions or redesignations since the advent of devolution.

As midnight approaches, healthcare services in numerous facilities across the country face imminent disruption, with clinical officers poised to down tools. Among their immediate demands is the implementation of an enhanced risk allowance, as agreed upon in a Return to Work agreement signed on January 1, 2021. Additionally, they advocate for the proper remuneration of clinical officer interns in accordance with approved guidelines.

Meanwhile, the doctors’ strike, now entering its third week, shows no signs of abating. Following a failed conciliation meeting last Thursday, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union has signaled its intent to escalate the industrial action on Tuesday, underscoring the necessity of the right to strike in facilitating effective collective bargaining.

As the healthcare crisis deepens, Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha has acknowledged the challenges, pledging to address the issues at hand. However, with both doctors and clinical officers standing firm in their demands, the government faces mounting pressure to find swift and equitable solutions to avert further deterioration of the healthcare system.


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