By Rebecca Chimjeka:
Health personnel at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe have stopped booking to work for extra hours, as they are pushing for an increase in allowance packages they get for the additional hours.
The action of the health workers has resulted in scaling down of operations in several departments at KCH, thereby putting lives of patients in danger as they are having to wait for many hours before receiving medical treatment.
The workers want the allowances under the arrangement, commonly known as locum, to be raised effective March 1 2019.
The medical practitioners are going about their normal duties according to the duty roster and not working for overtime.
The Daily Times understands that the Ministry of Health shot down the proposal of locum increase, hence nurses and midwives have stopped booking for overtime starting March 1 2019.
A memo which The Daily Times has seen, from National Organisation for Nurses and Midwives (NONM) Executive Director Benson Phiri, to the organisation’s membership, confirms the proposed increase of the allowances.
“A meeting was held on the 28th February  between [sic] NONM, Ministry of Health and Kamuzu Central Hospital. A roadmap was developed detailing processes and timelines ultimately leading to the budget [of] 2019/2020 to incorporate increased rates of locum for whole country – central and district hospitals, and Cham [Christian Health Association of Malawi] facilities,” the memo reads.
In the memo, NONM secretariat says the situation at KCN is dire and needs urgent attention as most departments lack members of staff.
Under locum arrangement, nurses and clinicians often stand in as temporarily workers due to shortage of medical practitioners in the country.
The workers receive K2,500 each if they work on afternoon shift and K3,000 for a night shift. They receive the money out of their normal shift.
Meanwhile, surgery, gynaecology and outpatient departments at KCH have put notices informing the public that, due to an acute shortage of nurses in these sections, the hospital will scale down its services, effective March 1 2019, for an indefinite period of time.
According to the notices, nurses who have been covering for the chronic shortage of members of staff are planning to down their tools.
It is understood that the nurses are lobbying for a raise in their locum allowances and, as a result, the theatre would be performing emergency procedures only.
“We will begin to refer stable patients that can be operated [on] at the district hospitals back to their district hospitals for management as a way of decongesting our wards which have also been affected by the same shortage in [sic] nursing staff,” reads part of the notice.
The Daily Times visited the hospital and discovered that there is, indeed, a crisis looming, especially at the children’s ward.
For example, at 9pm on Saturday night, there were only two nurses in a ward with 22 beds each shared by four children.
Asiatu Makwinja, a guardian at the hospital, said nurses are overwhelmed and in some cases two of them take care of 50 patients at once.
“I came from Dedza and, was referred here after the condition of my grandchild worsened. We arrived here on March 1 2019 but we were not attended to until the next morning after I had lost hope of getting help,” Makwinja said.
Biwi Township resident, Grace Zimba, whose son was admitted to KCH due to breathing difficulties, said she waited for over seven hours before her child received treatment.
Ministry of Health spokesperson, Joshua Malango, Sunday said they were in an emergency meeting over the same issue.
“We have heard about the issue. Suffice to say this is not a new development. There was a taskforce established by the ministry to be handling locum issues. With the situation at KCH, the Principal Secretary [Dan Namarika] is locked in an emergency meeting which is taking place at the Ministry of Health Headquarters at Capital Hill to map the way forward,” Malango said.
After the emergency meeting, Namarika said they would hold another meeting with the concerned staff at KCH today.
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