, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 26 – A meeting of key players in the health sector on Tuesday agreed that unions, governors and the ministry be given two weeks to resolve the impasse arising from the devolution of medical services.
The consultative meeting of stakeholders that was chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House Nairobi agreed that the concerns of health staff and governors be deliberated amicably.
Government health workers raised issue with having their monies paid by the county or national governments and they demanded for the creation of an independent institution where counties are represented which can pay, discipline and deploy staff.
Kenyatta also acknowledged that the problem could not be resolved in one meeting and advised that the stakeholders take time to further deliberate on the issues to end the stalemate.
“We passed a Constitution and we must follow it. Devolution is a reality and there is no turning back. The health function is devolved and the process is irreversible. The impossible cannot be made possible. What we are discussing here are the challenges,” advised the Head of State.
The President noted that the health workers sentiments will not be dismissed urging all parties not to defend their points of view but to discuss what would ensure a favourable way forward.
Deputy President William Ruto who was also in the meeting, said he was happy that the participants supported devolution and expressed optimism that the health issue would be resolved amicable.
Ruto challenged Parliament to enact laws that would guide the devolved functions so that the challenges are addressed in those laws.
Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said his Ministry had held four meetings with the unions with a view to resolving the matter. The doctors concerns are about tribalism and nepotism, with county government saying they only want health staff from their counties.
“Health workers have also complained that county governments do not release staff for training,” Macharia told the meeting.
On their part, Union leaders lamented that no legislation had been enacted to guide the devolution of the health function. They also complained that their members were being rejected in some counties and were returning to the ministry headquarters for deployment to their “native” counties.
“Between June and October, 58 doctors have resigned over this frustration.”
“Two weeks ago, 19 doctors left and copied their resignation letters to Parliament,” said Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union Secretary General Dr. Sultani Matendechero.
Other unions represented were the Kenya Health Professionals’ Union and the Kenya National Union of Nurses.
Kisii Governor James Ongwae, who spoke on behalf of governors, said county governments have taken charge of the health function as mandated by the Constitution. He said the health facilities in counties are in a deplorable condition.
“The equipment is analogue, there are no diagnostic services and ambulance services were rare before the county governments were formed,” Ongwae said.
He said dialogue can resolve these concerns but there can be no turning back on the health function.
The health committees of the National Assembly and Senate were largely in agreement that the challenge was huge and that the doctors’ concerns were genuine.
National Assembly Committee on Health Chair, Rachael Nyamai said the blanket transfer of the health function is a challenge and proposed the set up a health service commission to manage the sector.
The Senate Committee on Health Chairman, Dr. Mohammed Kuti cited lack of communication between county governments and the staff working in the counties as the major issue. He proposed that the issue of counties paying health workers salaries be deferred for another six months.
The role of Kenya Medical Supplies Agency and its relationship with county government was discussed at length. It was agreed that governors and KEMSA consult and reach a decision that is agreeable to all.
Speaking to media after the house on the hill meeting, Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary General Seth Panyako assured that they would follow the Presidents directive.
Panyako added that if the fort-night dialogue bore no fruit then on December 10 all the health workers would down their tools.
He also raised issue with the payment of salaries saying that the Ministry had already devolved the salaries to the counties but there was a delay in the payments.