Mean medical workers in Kenya a threat to universal health care

By Gatonye Gathura

Health workers have owned there is widespread mistreatment of patients in public hospitals.

At the Kenya Health Forum 2018 organised by the health ministry in Nairobi last week, participants agreed there is need to change their negative attitude towards patients.

“How comes the same doctor or nurse is courteous to patients in a private facility but becomes unrecognizably hostile to those in public hospitals,” asked a participant during a plenary session on Wednesday.

The three day forum brought together national and county health workers, nongovernmental organisations and donors in the sector to review challenges in implementing universal health care.

Health workers negative attitude towards patients emerged as one challenge that may hinder patients from seeking care in public health facilities.

The forum took place when the sector is still reeling from several major surgical mistakes at Kenyatta National Hospital.

The cases involved a brain surgery mix up and a C-section operation alleged to have gone wrong at the referral facility.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union has largely blamed overwork and system failure for the many malpractices being recorded in the sector.

However during the Wednesday morning discussions at the health forum at Laico Regency in Nairobi health workers owed to being part of the problem.

Participants suggested a retraining of health workers on positive customer care and attitude.

They said negative attitude was worst among new graduates entering the job market. “They are coming in as if they are already tired,” said a participant.

This was partly linked to the constant strikes in the sector which health workers said may be demoralizing and radicalizing medical trainees.

“We stand in firm solidarity with all doctors, dentists and pharmacists in the fight for rights,’ the Medical Students’ Association of Kenya had stated while supporting last year’s prolonged doctors strike

To cushion the ‘noble’ profession against such negative impacts, the forum suggested future potential medical trainees be made to sign a ‘moral– patient first – MOU’ biding them to put service before pay.

A policy outlawing strikes for health workers has already been developed by the Ministry of Health emphasizing health as an essential service which is cushioned against industrial strikes.

The – User Guide on Employee Relations for the Health Sector in Kenya 2016 – states that no person should take part in a strike if engaged in an essential service such as health.

The policy which is yet to be enforced says health workers should draw a line between self-interest, politics and professionalism in the management of the health sector at all times.

While health workers unions have cited the right to strike as enshrined in the Constitution the health ministry says the same disallows health workers from prejudicing the rights of patients.

The Nairobi forum said the many reports of medical malpractices were undermining public confidence in government health facilities. Despite this they said the sector is ill prepared to implement universal health care.

A group report presented by Catherine Maingi of the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority said high cost of drugs and stock outs remained a major problem in the sector.

“One of the problems in the counties is delayed payment for medical suppliers which pushed patients to buy expensive medicines from the private sector,” she told the meeting.

Most of the patients who can’t afford the expensive medicines, the meeting was told will in most cases opt out of treatment.

But it also emerged that the countries have not been involved in planning for universal health care.

For example, the meeting heard of the 47 county assemblies, who are responsible for budgeting and expenditure none has been involved in planning so far.

The next Kenya Health Forum will be held next year but some participants wondered when inputs from such forums will ever move from wish lists to implementation.

“It is time we said: Kama sio sasa ni hivi sasa,” said a representative of the Kenyan Health NGOs Network.

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