What did the doctors gain?

2009-07-04 00:00

STRIKING and dismissed Pietermaritzburg doctors were back at work yesterday, relieved to be performing their duties, but not altogether certain of their gains.

Doctors returned to their posts yesterday morning after intervention on Thursday by Cosatu and the SA Medical Association (Sama) saw the government agree to rescind dismissal notices served on close to 300 KZN doctors.

Medics have until July 21 to accept or reject the government’s latest occupation-specific dispensation offer (OSD), a salary package for public servants based on experience. If the offer is rejected, a dispute will be declared and the matter referred to arbitration.

A quick tour of Pietermaritzburg’s three state hospitals yesterday in the wake of the medics’ unprecedented 10-day strike revealed that all doctors seemed to be back at their stations and it was business as usual, with only minor outpatient and emergency services backlogs being reported.

While doctors canvassed said they were glad the strike was over, some said morale is low and that many are disillusioned. “If morale was low before, it’s hit rock-bottom now,” said a doctor at Grey’s Hospital.

He said the firing and reinstatement of the doctors has had the effect of sidelining some of the major issues that led to strike action: improving patient care and working conditions.

“From the bottom of my heart, I believed in this cause,” said another doctor.

“I was prepared to go on with it,” said a doctor from Northdale.

An Edendale doctor said: “It was very stressful being on strike, so we are glad it’s over, but it has not addressed working conditions and the freezing of posts.”

The doctor drew attention to the shortage of pharmacists, which was hindering the hospital’s capacity to administer ARV medication.

The president of the midlands branch of Sama, Graham Ducasse, said yesterday he is “thrilled” that doctors have returned to work, although Sama is not happy with the final OSD package.

However, he said, the latest offer represens a “huge step forward”.

A spokesman for the KZN doctors, Dr Shailendra Sham, said a joint union and departmental task team was being set up to look at improvement to infrastructure and working conditions.

He said that while there istill some dissatisfaction around the government’s latest salary offer, there is“no further role for mass action at this stage”.

MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said the department has rescinded all the letters of dismissal it issued on Monday.

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