Patients at Kamuzu Central Hospital are at a huge risk after medical doctors, nurses and clinical officers on Wednesday resolved to stop offering their services during the hours when they are entitled to locum to force Malawi government to increase the allowances.
The situation has put at stake lives of hundreds of patients at the hospital as few medical workers are available to serve them at a given time.
Government introduced the allowances to address the acute shortage of health personnel in the country.
Nation on Sunday has established that the workers want the allowance to rise by about 600 percent from K1 200 (about $4.80) to around K8 000 (about $32) per day.
In an interview on Thursday, hospital director Dr Noordeen Alide confirmed the issue, saying the matter has now been referred to the Ministry of Health.
“That is true. Locum is about hiring of nurses, doctors and clinical officers from the market anywhere in Lilongwe. The workers have stopped going on locum because they are saying the money is not enough.
“We are feeling the impact because the hospital does not have adequate nurses, clinical officers and doctors,” said Alide.
He said at the rate of K1 200 per day, the hospital has been spending about K7 million (about $28 000) every month on locum, translating into about 6 000 additional working shifts per month for the staff to serve patients.
Asked how the hospital is coping with the already acute shortage of staff, Alide said: “We are prioritising the critical areas like the labour ward and emergency section. We really have a huge deficit of workers.”
A doctor who refused to be named for fear of reprisals said on Thursday they resorted to using patient attendants and cleaners to assist them in serving patients on Wednesday night as there were few qualified medical staff.
“This is putting patientsâ€™ lives at risk. How can cleaners or patient attendants help to serve the patients? We were desperate with the huge number of patients coming to the hospital.
“There was also one nurse in the labour ward attending to many expectant mothers,” said the doctor.
A nurse at the hospital, who also declined to be identified, said they are also concerned about governmentâ€™s delays to pay them locum arrears.
“It takes long to get our locum arrears. Some people receive their money after three months and this affects us,” said the nurse.
Malawiâ€™s Ministry of Health spokesperson Henry Chimbali said the medical workersâ€™ demands are justifiable, admitting that K1 200 is not adequate as compensation for the work they do.
“We have made proposals for locum adjustment because their concerns are justifiable. We will communicate the adjustments once they have been approved by the authorities,” said Chimbali.