The Doctors’ Syndicate have demanded the dismissal of Health Minister Maha Rabat because she “deliberately humiliates doctors and stands against their rights”.
In a general assembly meeting on Friday, the Doctors’ Syndicate also decided to refer the minister to the disciplinary committee for investigations.
Subsequently, the Ministry of Health said in a statement that the general assembly’s decisions constitute “political use of union work” and that the syndicate does not have the right to assign blame or investigate the minister, since the minister does not practice the profession. Ministry spokesman Ahmed Kamel said the disciplinary committee investigates mistakes in practicing medicine and “the minister does not practice medicine”.
Following the general assembly meeting, Secretary General of the Doctors’ Syndicate Mona Mina, who had handed in her resignation on 8 February, announced in a statement on Saturday that she must “retract her resignation” after the doctors proved that they can run an objective discussion.
The syndicate’s board had announced after a meeting last Tuesday that it rejects the resignation in form and substance and called on Mina to return to perform her duties.
The general assembly reiterated the syndicate’s rejection of the law that was ratified by President Adly Mansour on 6 February, and said that it holds on to its demand for the passing of the draft Staff Law, which 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.
The ministry spokesman said: “We agree that the law [that was passed] is not optimal, but it is a step in the right direction.” He added that the recently passed law does not achieve all of the doctors’ demands. Kamel said the law organises affairs of medical workers belonging to seven different unions, adding that that five of the unions accept it, with the unions of doctors and pharmacists rejecting it.
After holding eight, one day-long partial strikes in 2014, in demand of the draft Staff Law, the doctors have decided to hold one more partial strike in both public and private hospitals on 26 February, and subsequently begin an open-ended strike on 8 March. In parallel with the strike, the syndicate will also be collecting mass resignations, which will be handed in to the ministry once their number reaches “a critical number of 20,000”, according to Hossam Kamal, rapporteur of the syndicate’s media committee.
A recent decision taken by the ministry has sparked outrage in the syndicate when a doctor, Ahmed Shawqy, was referred to prosecution. Kamel said this doctor entered an operation theatre wearing his clothes and shoes, rather than scrubs. “He threatened the patient’s life,” Kamel added.
However, a committee was formed by the syndicate to look into the incident and provided a different account. Assistant Secretary General of the syndicate Rashwan Shaaban, who was one of the three people on the committee, said these claims are “completely baseless” and described the accusation as “false”.
Shaaban said the doctor was standing in a hallway outside the operation theatre and added that this had been the first time that a doctor was referred to prosecution for allegedly breaking infection control rules. Shaaban described the decision to investigate Shawqy as intransigence and said that the point behind it is to break the will of the doctors.
Doctors are calling for reforms to Egypt’s crumbling healthcare system as well as pay raises. They had previously resorted to an open-ended strike in 2012, one that lasted over 80 days. It ended with the understanding that the draft Staff Law would be passed. In 2013, the draft law was handed to the Shura Council, but the legislature was disbanded before passing the law.
The doctors held a strike on 1 January 2014 and another on 8 January; they have since then staged strikes every Monday and Wednesday of February, although the strike participation rates during the first two strikes were markedly higher than those held in February. Many young doctors are feeling frustrated that the government is not responding to their demands, despite repeated striking.
The bulk of doctors’ incomes are made up of bonuses and incentives. The actual amount of incentives doctors receive 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.
The doctors are demanding an increase in their fixed salary, which the draft Staff Law would achieve if passed. After retiring, a doctor’s pension is determined based on his fixed salary, which means that increasing incentives would not increase doctors’ pensions.
The general assembly ordered the formation of two committees, one of which is tasked with managing the upcoming strike and with negotiating with the government on the draft Staff Law. The last round of negotiations was in December and involved representatives from both the ministries of Health and Finance. Eventually, the talks broke down and doctors proceeded with their plans to strike in January.
The other committee is a legal committee tasked with following up on the cases of doctors currently held in preventative detention. They are estimated to be at least 200 and a delegation from the Doctors’ Syndicate had handed a list with their names to Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in January, demanding their release on humanitarian and medical grounds.