The Minister of Health, Ruth Aceng, has Thursday told Parliament that government can currently meet only two of the demands raised by striking doctors.
Aceng told MPs on the health committee of Parliament that government is ready to improve pay for interns and senior house officers immediately. Doctors laid down their tools on Monday citing outstanding issues relating to their salaries and allowances as well as work conditions.
The minister had been summoned to explain the circumstances surrounding the strike and brief MPs on the way forward. The Uganda Medical Association that called for the strike insisted on four demands that need to be fulfilled before they can return to duty.
According to the Health minister, the doctors had come up with what they called a health barometer in which they listed various demands like chauffer driven cars and three bedroomed houses for doctors as well as improved medical supplies and equipment for hospitals.
The doctors agreed after several meetings with the ministry and to reduce their demands to four issues mainly salaries for interns, disbandment of the health monitoring unit, salaries for senior house officers and salaries and allowances for doctors including duty facilitation allowances.
Aceng argues that the funds to pay interns have remained the same at Shs9.3 billion over the years despite intern numbers increasing from around 800 to 1,035 currently.
“The numbers are increasing but the money has not increased. We were initially able to pay each intern doctor Shs1.5m but now we are unable,” she observed.
She says a supplementary budget will be sought for additional funds to enable interns get a monthly salary of Shs940,000.
On the issue of Senior House officers, Aceng notes that these workers are under the Ministry of Education since they are university students and thus the Health ministry had to first verify the lists of all officers before going ahead to approve their pay.
This response, however, generated criticism from the MPs including the committee chairperson, Michael Bukenya, who accused the ministry of being sluggish in implementing policies that have been agreed upon.
“There are issues which are not coming out clearly from the ministry and we should be able to support you but we are not the ones to make your budget,” Bukenya admonished the minister.
He further argued that Shs4.2b was allocated to pay senior house officers but four months down the road, the funds remain unused.
An exchange between the minister and Bukenya ensued with the minister insisting that her ministry was not inefficient but instead had to wait for verification lists of senior house officers that were not readily available from the education ministry.
“We have said we are going through a process of getting to know who these are with their requirements from the universities….. Obviously if the universities are working at the pace that we wanted we wouldn’t have these delays we wrote to them in July that is the beginning of the financial year but we are just getting the lists now,” Aceng argued.
PML Daily has discovered that the Shs4.2b was an arbitrary figure allocated in the 2017/2018 FY budget without an actual confirmed number of senior house officers under the employ of government. The number of officers has since been established at 590.
On the issue of salaries and duty facilitation allowances for senior doctors, Aceng told MPs that nothing conclusive can be done until the pay policy is finalized later on November 17.
Aceng noted that when these issues were presented to the president he acknowledged the need to improve the doctor’s welfare but he stated that there were certain things that needed to have been sorted out first in the institutions that pay salaries that is public service and the finance ministry.
She said public service should have started a long time ago with increasing pay of lower cadres that are large in number and then moving on upwards to the higher cadres.