KAMPALA— Doctors in public hospitals across the country returned to work Saturday to the relief of patients after a three-week boycott that paralysed the health sector.
Their return to work follows a vote by doctors under their umbrella association, Uganda Medical Association (UMA), on November 25, to suspend their strike up to December 16, the date when the government promised to have delivered on some of their demands.
A Salary Review Commission is also expected to have come up with a resolution on the salary and allowance demands of the doctors by that date.
The strike which started on November 6, has seen services in government aided hospitals paralysed with doctors listing a raft of demands, including enhanced duty facilitation allowances, disbandment of the State House Health Monitoring Unit and a steady supply of sundries and other medical supplies in hospitals before they return to work.
Dr Ekwaro Obuku, the UMA President, said they were calling off the strike not because government has met all the conditions but that because government had promised to meet their conditions.
He warned government not to take the doctors’ demands for granted since they would ill not hesitate to resume the strike if by December 16, if nothing tangible has come up.
“Doctors are eager to resume their Industrial action if not taken serious …and then [December 16] people [doctors] will be going for Christmas. We don’t know when they will return,” Dr Obuku warned amidst cheers from the medical workers who jam-packed Silver Springs Hotel’s Hall in Kampala.
The decision made at the end of their General Assembly on Saturday followed back- to -back meetings between the UMA’s national executive committee and Cabinet to end the industrial action.
State Finance minister David Bahati who attended the doctors’ assembly pleaded with the doctors to resume work, admitting that government “had indeed been brought to its knees.”
“[Dr] Obuku has said you have brought us [government] to our knees. Friends, I am on my knees to ask you to consider these issues,” Bahati said.
Bahati reiterated the government pledges to the doctors including the supplementary budget for drugs and sundries, welfare and training of Senior House officers and intern doctors as well as duty facilitation allowances for all doctors in public service.
He said during the current financial year, they have added Shs41 billion supplementary to National Medical Stores (NMS) to provide for emergency medical supplies.
He said the Ministry of Finance has been allocating Shs230 billion to NMS for the supplies and another Shs7.2 billion to Joint Medical Stores for the bureaus.
The minister said another Shs4.2 billion has been released to the Ministry of Finance to cater for the allowances of the Senior House Officers (post graduate doctors) , and the verification process is on-going to ensure the salaries go to the rightful people.
The interns will also have their allowances enhanced to Shs940, 000 from Shs740, 000 and be paid in every month as opposed to quarterly.
The enhancements are to act as a temporary measure to end the industrial action as the two parties proceed with the negotiations.