Doctors in the public healthcare sector staged a partial strike on Wednesday demanding reforms in the healthcare sector and vowed to stage another strike in the upcoming week.
Hossam Kamal, the Rapporteur of the Media Committee of the Doctors’ Syndicate, said that nationwide participation rate in the strike is 80%.
However, Ministry of Health numbers are much lower than the syndicate’s official figures.
Earlier on Wednesday, health minister Maha Al-Rabat told state-run Al-Ahram that there are 10 governorates in which doctors did not strike at all and that strike participation rates reached 30% in other governorates.
Secretary General of the Doctors’ Syndicate Mona Mina said: “We did not have the nerve to announce rash and incorrect statements. We waited… in order to speak based on accurate figures.”
Doctors have been demanding higher pay for years. On Tuesday, the Cabinet approved a law that would raise bonuses for all medical professionals by 75%. Commenting on the decision, Emtiaz Hassouna, the Rapporteur of the External Affairs Committee, said: “They are throwing us a couple of piasters.” The decision also raises hazardous pay to EGP 120 per month. The figure will gradually be raised to EGP 200 by July 2016.
This strike has been dedicated by the syndicate to the late Ahmed Abdel Latif, a doctor who contracted a fatal infection from a patient. Abdel Latif’s death sparked an outcry because he was receiving hazardous pay of only EGP 19 a month as compensation for working at a place where he could contract infections.
The strike comes after negotiations between representatives of the syndicate and the ministries of Health and Finance failed last week to resolve the long standing issues.
Doctors have been trying to push for the ratification of the draft Staff Law, which would organise financial, technical and administrative matters like training, promotions, working hours for all professionals in the public healthcare sector. Hassouna described the draft Staff Law as a “comprehensive work contract”.
Kamal said that during negotiations, “there was no response to [calls for] implementing the Staff Law over a schedule, even though the administrative aspect of the law would incur no costs at all on the state.”
Hassouna said that the delegation which negotiated with the ministries only asked that the ministries reveal the total budget for incomes for workers in the healthcare sector and the total number of employees “and we will help use the figures effectively and efficiently”.
A bulk of doctors’ incomes is made up of bonuses and incentives; however, doctors demand that pay raises increase their fixed salary, which is what the draft Staff Law would achieve if passed. “An entry level doctor has a fixed salary of EGP 200 which reaches EGP 900 with bonuses and incentives,” Hassouna said.
However, bonuses and incentives are only paid if money is available at the time. If there is no money available, they may wait for months before receiving the remainder of their pay.
Kamal said negotiations lead to some improvement regarding a different law, the Medical Incentives Law; however, he was critical of the improvements, saying “they are not up to par”.
With these conditions, many doctors are choosing to work outside of Egypt instead. Hassouna said that out of 250,000 Egyptian doctors, only 90,000 work inside Egypt and only 60,000 of those work in the public health sector, while the rest belong to private practices. “There are areas that have no doctors at all. There are only 10 doctors in New Valley governorate and this is a disaster,” she added.
The syndicate said ahead of the talks that it will carry out its decision to strike if negotiations lead to “unsatisfactory results”. The decision to strike was taken on 6 December in a General Assembly emergency session, during which doctors also voted to unanimously back the draft Staff Law.
The Medical Incentives Law was suggested in October by the ministries of Health and Finance. The new law would raise incomes for doctors; however, 75% of the raise would come in the form of incentives and the total income would still fall short of the monthly EGP 3,000 proposed in the draft Staff Law. Secretary-General Mina described it as a “pain killer or a distraction”.
The Doctors’ Syndicate had announced on Saturday that it will provide protection for doctors who take part in the strike. Kamal said two directors of different hospitals have issued threats to doctors working under them and “are being referred to the ethics committee”.
During the partial strike in 2012, several doctors who participated in the strike faced administrative intransigence, including threats of deductions on incentives and other hurdles such as being investigated by the administration for striking.
The syndicate has maintained that this strike is not political; Kamal added that anyone who raises political slogans will also be referred to the ethics committee.
In addition to the passing the Staff Law, doctors are also demanding an improvement in security conditions in hospitals, by demanding that a law be passed to enforce harsher penalties on anyone who commits an act of aggression against doctors or hospitals, and that the state budget for health be raised. In 2012, doctors staged a partial strike that lasted longer than 80 days, raising the same demands. They ended the strike with the understanding that the draft Staff Law would be passed.
The strike includes all hospitals and medical institutions that operate within the public healthcare sector, all non-emergency medical services and outpatient clinics. However, the emergency department, emergency operations, kidney dialysis, intensive care units and incubators continue to run normally.
The Ministry of Health could not be reached for comment.