The Lesotho Medical Association (LMA) has condemned what it termed the intimidation of doctors who are on strike and refusing to work at night and on weekends by the ministry of health.
This after the Director General of Health Services, Dr â€˜Nyane Letsie, last Tuesday urged the doctors to immediately resume call duties or face disciplinary action.
â€œThis is intimidation. The doctors have made it clear that they will only agree to take calls when the money they are owed has been paid,â€ LMA president, Dr Mojakisane Ramafikeng, said last Wednesday.
LMA announced in February this year that the doctors would stop taking calls from March 1, citing nonpayment of call allowances.
LMA said this was because, for a period of over five years, doctors in the public sector had been partaking in work beyond ordinary hours without pay.
â€œThis includes working during nights, weekends, and public holidays without any form of remuneration,â€ read the statement signed by Dr Ramafikeng in February.
Doctors are required to be on call from 5 pm to 8 am the following day on weekdays, and the whole day on weekends and holidays, during which they can be summoned to attend emergencies.
â€œLMA wishes to inform the general public that doctors will notbe partaking in hospital duties that they are not paid for by the government of Lesotho from the 1st March 2023.
â€œThis means doctors will not offer night duty (call) services (1700 to 0800), weekend, and public holiday services. Doctors will continue offering exceptional services within ordinary working hours and not beyond that until this matter is resolved,â€ the statement read.
In a letter to the district medical officers (DMOs) and medical superintendents, Dr Letsie on Tuesday acknowledged that the issue of non-payment of call allowances had created animosity.
â€œThe ministry of health wishes to apologise to all doctors for the longstanding problem of the delayed payment of call duty allowances that has created animosity and suspension of calls after normal working hours,â€ Dr Letsie said in the letter which was also copied to the LMA.
She indicated that after the doctors embarked on the strike, the ministry of health worked tirelessly and hard to ensure that all relevant ministries and stakeholders are brought to collectively produce a long-term solution to this problem.
â€œThis communication, therefore, serves to inform you that critical milestones have been achieved that enable the payment of the current and outstanding amount,â€ she said.
She told the DMOs that through the facilitation of the Minister of Health, Selibe Mochoboroane, meetings with key stakeholders were convened and bottlenecks for non-payment were addressed.
Also, she added, the call claim tool was revised and shared and the amount for initial payments was requested and approved.
â€œCreation of doctors into allowance payment system is ongoing, however, it is delayed due to the incompleteness of the information submitted. Completed payment vouchers have been submitted to the treasury for finalization of payments,â€ Dr Letsie said.
She further divulged that call allowances had been budgeted for in the current financial year to avoid similar mistakes.
She said the ministry would continue to exert all efforts and dedication until all outstanding amounts were fully paid.
â€œIt is against this background that the ministry urges all doctors to immediately resume call duty. Furthermore, all DMOs are expected to submit to the office of the Director General call roaster for the month of April 2023 by 4:30pm, on Wednesday, April 5.
â€œFailure to comply will lead to disciplinary action against individual employees. The ministry also wishes to remind doctors of their ethical obligation to patient care as an essential service. Also, doctors are considered as core and priority human resource in Lesotho,â€ she said.
Dr Ramafikeng told this publication on Wednesday that doctors would only accept to take calls when they have been paid.
â€œThe members of the LMA have it clear that they will take calls when money reflects in their accounts. They are very clear and say, no money to work,â€ he said.
According to the LMA, the high court declared in 2020 that not paying doctors their call allowances was unconstitutional in that it violated section 4(1)m of the constitution.
It has also accused the ministry of health of refusing to comply with the ruling.
â€œDespite the decisive ruling in our favor, several steps were taken to engage with the ministry of health pertaining to this crucial matter but all efforts by LMA were met with complete silence from the ministry of health irrespective of the importance of this matter to doctors both native and expatriates,â€ Dr Ramafikeng said in February.
In 2011, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said a large number of Basotho professionals, especially in the health sector looked for better opportunities abroad, contributing to the constant brain drain in the country.
IOM said physicians born in Lesotho were registered as working abroad, mainly in South Africa and most cited low wages, huge salary differences, better social lives, and better infrastructure as push factors.