By Pamela Shumba/Richard Muponde/Walter Mswazie
Nurses at Government hospitals countrywide yesterday downed tools in protest over the failure by their employer to attend to their grievances which include poor remuneration and working conditions.
The Zimbabwe Nurses’ Association (Zina) wrote to the Government on Friday, saying the strike would start today and end when Government has met their demands.
When The Chronicle visited Mpilo Central Hospital and the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) yesterday, student nurses were manning the wards while employed nurses were not attending to patients.
At Mpilo Hospital, the outpatients department was closed, with only emergency cases being attended to.
According to a notice by Dr Solwayo Ngwenya, the hospital’s clinical director, the institution was forced to come up with measures to manage the situation.
“This is to inform you that due to the on-going industrial action by nurses, the outpatients department will be closed until the end of the strike. We will be attending to emergency cases only.
“Contingency measures have been put in place to keep critical areas like the ICU, maternity, theatres and casualty open to save precious lives,” said Dr Ngwenya.
A meeting was held between the Government and Zina on Sunday, but it yielded no results after the nurses rejected what the Government offered and demanded that they see the allowances in their accounts first.According to Zina, the Government promised to effect the allowances by Thursday.
The Government offered night duty allowances to be paid for Grades D1 to D4 at a rate of $217 to $303, while standby allowances for rural staff to be paid at a rate of $240 for grades C5 to D4.
The Government also offered $70 for post-basic allowances while grading and advancement arrears would also be paid on Thursday.
Zina’s secretary general Mr Enock Dongo yesterday said nurses will only return to work when Government has fulfilled its promises.
“Nurses are frustrated by promises that the Government is making and not fulfilling. We’ve therefore embarked on a strike that will only end when the Government has done what we want.
“Implementation has taken too long and nurses are finding it difficult to trust their employer. There are promises that were made in 2010 and they have not been implemented up to now,” said Mr Dongo.
He added that there was a haphazard system in the health sector with no rationale, a development that has seen nurses being wrongly graded and earning less than what they are supposed to earn.
Mr Dongo argued that nurses played a pivotal role in the country’s health delivery system but the Government has continued to ignore their concerns.
In Victoria Falls, scores of people seeking medical services were stranded at the Victoria Falls District Hospital as nurses were on a go slow.
The health institution serves as the district hospital for Hwange with a catchment area covering the resort town, Kazungula, Jambezi, Chisuma, Matetsi, Pandamatenga and surrounding areas. A majority of people ended up going to private institutions as they could not access services.
The situation was similar at St Patrick’s Hospital in Hwange where health staff was also not attending to people.
In Binga, The Chronicle gathered that it was business as usual at Binga District Hospital as nurses reported for duty.
Meanwhile, nurses at Plumtree District Hospital yesterday morning joined the nationwide strike called by their national association to press Government for a salary increase.
The nurses did not stay away from their work stations but hung around the hospital premises, avoiding getting into patient’s wards.
A source at the hospital said doctors were having a torrid time working alone as most of the “dirty work” was not being done by nurses who have downed tools.
“Doctors are not used to this kind of work as they are used to examining and writing patients’ cards while nurses carry all the instructions thereto. Now they are faced with reality and are finding it difficult to cope with the work,” he said.
Reports said some general workers at the health institution were helping with the physical lifting of patients while doctors were doing both the nurses jobs and their own.
Nurses in Masvingo also joined the nationwide industrial action, with patients at Masvingo General Hospital being turned away.
Masvingo provincial medical director Dr Amadeaus Shamu confirmed a skeletal staff was waiting for emergencies at the provincial hospital.
“I can confirm that nurses here have joined the nationwide strike. However, emergency cases are being attended to,” said Dr Shamu.
The strike follows an industrial action by government doctors last month over conditions of service, salaries and allowances which government has reportedly reviewed upwards.
A survey showed that there was skeletal staff at the Masvingo provincial referral hospital but no patient was being attended to.
The most affected patients were the terminally ill ones, especially those living with HIV who wanted to collect their medication.
An HIV activist Mr Joshua Mavundu said Government must act swiftly to avert a looming “disaster” as defaulting treatment was tantamount to a death sentence for people living with the virus. The Chronicle