Senior House Officers Were Not Budgeted For- Atwine

 Post-graduate medical doctors were not budgeted for by the Ministry of Health (MOH),

Also referred to as Senior House Officers (SHOs), the senior medical doctors attending their work-study training in the various regional and National Referral Hospitals laid down their tools on Monday agitating for payment of their allowances.

But in an interview with Uganda Radio Network, Dr Diana Atwine, the Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary said the numbers they keep getting each year are unpredictable and problematic for them to budget for. In this lot, 247 Senior House Officers were deployed in different hospitals across the country and Atwine says this was a bigger number than anticipated.

The specialist doctors were allocated a monthly allowance of 2.5 million Shillings by the government starting on July 1, 2021, following a 2016 resolution where President Yoweri Museveni while attending the Uganda Medical Association’s General Assembly said that not paying these graduate doctors was an act of modern-day slavery.

But, according to the doctors, they haven’t received their allowances since October and their call to the ministry of Health to pay these arrears has gone unanswered. Dr Robert Lubega, the Chief Resident at Makerere University College of Health Sciences says that the government is in a habit of not remitting allowances to first-year students for the first three to six months of reporting to work-study training.

“Most recently the current second-year lot of SHOs based at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital missed their payment for the first six months without any explanation as to why the allowance didn’t come when they were in the First Year”, he said.

Currently, the doctor says first-year officers based in Mulago, Kiruddu, and Kawempe National Referral Hospitals in addition to Mbale Regional Referral Hospital have not yet received their allowances since they reported to the work-study sites in October. Those in Kabale Hospital haven’t received theirs since August 2022.

Lubega says the allegation by Atwine that the numbers are increasing and unpredictable is wrong considering that the number decreased by just thirteen from those deployed last year.

Now, while the announcement to lay down tools was just made at the weekend, the doctors seem to have heeded. During a visit to Mulago Orthopedic unit, a number of patients, some with bone cement rolled around their legs were seen seated stranded on verandas on Monday morning as there were no doctors present to handle them.

Atwine says the hospitals are not strained and will not stop offering care because of the absence of SHOs in hospitals as there are human resources paid by the government to work.

Strikes by medical workers have become common whereby whenever their salaries delay, they lay down tools affecting the operations of hospitals across the country since they majorly rely on doctors in training to run health facilities considering the very low doctor-to-patient ratios in the country.

Dr Hebert Luswata, the General Secretary of the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) says striking is their weapon of last resort as healthcare managers tend to pay a deaf ear whenever they raise their concerns in a cordial way.

He now says that apart from paying the SHOs arrears, the government needs to employ those who finish training as Senior Medical Officers as this will have them get a fixed wage rather than allowances.  He notes that there is already a seventy per cent gap to fill in as only 30 per cent of vacancies for specialists in regional referral hospitals are filled.

“They need to provide housing near hospitals where they work. SHOs work 24 hours a week and are the first line of Specialists. This is why the first Doctor to die in the recent Ebola outbreak was Dr Mohammed Ali who was an SHO of KIU working in Mubende Regional hospital”.

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