Tensions are building between public hospital staff members and the health authority in Kenya over pay and employment, with healthcare services disrupted to many patients in the country.

A nationwide strike, planned for Thursday by the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, was put on hold after the country’s employment and labor relations court issued orders on Wednesday directing the parties involved to hold negotiations.

Despite the court order, many patients were stranded in various hospitals across the country as some doctors heeded their union’s call to stay away from work.

The union had issued a seven-day strike notice last week, accusing the government of failing to address their grievances, including calls for promotions and the postings of more than 4,000 medical interns.

The government said the doctors’ demands were not met due to a lack of funds. However, the union’s secretary-general Davji Atellah said the strike was necessary because no consensus has been reached on issues affecting healthcare workers across the country.

At the Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi, services proceeded normally despite fears that the strike might interrupt services in the coming days.

Solution urged

An ear, nose and throat specialist, who preferred to remain anonymous, said doctors are obligated to save lives, but they cannot do that in poor conditions.

He said he is on duty in accordance to the labor court ruling, but will await the direction of their union leaders pertaining to the strike.

“We have patients in the intensive care unit, in the sick newborn and pediatric medical unit, women with premature labor or high-risk pregnancies and many of other high-risk patients who cannot survive the withdrawal of services. That is why we prefer that the government offers a solution,” the doctor said.

Sakina Akoko, an expectant mother, said she was relieved to be told that services were still available at Mama Lucy despite the earlier announcement of the doctors’ strike.

“I had come to Mama Lucy when I was experiencing some pain. The doctor attended to me and recommended that I be admitted for observation,” Akoko said. “Imagine if I were to go into labor or had some complications and there was no one to attend to me because of the strike, where would I go as I cannot afford to pay for private hospitals.”

Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha pleaded with doctors to be patient as the Ministry of Health finds a lasting solution to their grievances. She also noted that strikes will not solve the medical interns’ problem or other pertinent issues that have persisted for years.