Doctors held their seventh partial strike of the year Monday, and while the Ministry of Health reported only 12% of hospitals participated in the strike, the Doctors’ Syndicate said participation rates were between 40% and 50% at 80% of the hospitals..
Health Minister Maha Rabat said 451 out of a total of 514 hospitals across the nation boycotted the strike.
Commenting on these conflicting figures, the Assistant Secretary General of the Doctors’ Syndicate Rashwan Shaaban said the ministry calculates the percentage based on the number of doctors inside hospitals, but the syndicate calculates it based on outpatient clinics. He said he is happy with strike participation rates given the arbitrary treatment of doctors by hospital management.
By striking, doctors stop operating outpatient clinics and non-emergency medical services, but the strike does not disrupt emergency operations and kidney dialysis, intensive care units and incubators continue to run normally.
“We repeat that the strike is not against the patients, but one of the strike’s most important demands is improving the healthcare services offered to patients,” Shaaban said in a statement.
The ministry and syndicate have provided conflicting figures on strike participation rates since protests began at the beginning this year.
After the first partial strike on 1 January, the Rapporteur of the Media Committee of the Doctors’ Syndicate Hossam Kamal said the participation rate was 80%. The Ministry of Health, at the time, said the strike participation was only 30%.
Doctors’ main demands are reforms to Egypt’s crumbling healthcare system through passing the draft Staff Law, which doctors have for years been adamantly pushing for.
The draft law organises financial and administrative affairs, such as training, promotions and working hours for all medical professionals in the public healthcare sector – not just for doctors.
On 6 February, Interim President Adly Mansour ratified the Law for Organising Affairs of Medical Professionals. It was rejected by the syndicate.
The bulk of doctors’ incomes are made up of bonuses and incentives, the latter of which is raised by the new law. The actual amount of incentives a doctor receives is decided based on their performance, however, which is assessed by the hospital administration, leaving room for personal relations to affect how much a doctor makes.
Doctors demand that pay raises increase their fixed salary, which the draft Staff Law would achieve if passed. After retiring, a doctor’s pension is determined based on the fixed salary; therefore, increasing incentives will not increase doctors’ pensions.
Strike participation rates during the first two protests of the year on 1 and 8 January were markedly higher than in the following strikes because many young doctors are feeling frustrated that the government is not responding to their demands despite repeated striking.
In 2012, the Doctors’ Syndicate organised a partial strike that lasted more than 80 days and ended with the understanding that the draft Staff Law would be passed. Eventually, in 2013, the draft law was presented to the Shura Council but the proposal did not pass.
Doctors are scheduled to discuss escalatory steps in a general assembly meeting at the syndicate on 21 February. Two possible actions involve an open-ended strike or collecting group resignations, handed by the syndicate when the number of resignations collected reaches 20,000.