Striking doctors say they won’t cave in to threats of docked pay or even termination.
The committee governing the partial doctors’ strike announced on Monday that hospitals have received leaflets outlining penalties that may be imposed on doctors who “are absent from work or who refuse to work.” The committee said the statement doesn’t mention strike action but hospital administration officials are treating the leaflets as a warning to striking doctors.
Doctors say however that they are not absent nor refuse to work, but are only trying to close outpatient clinics in Ministry of Health hospitals, the only ones targeted by the strike. All other hospital departments are running as normal, admitting all except those with trivial ailments.
They hope that by targeting paid outpatient clinics they can hurt the ministry in the wallet, without affecting patient care.
“They are thus exercising their legitimate right to strike, a right guaranteed by many international agreements,” the statement read.
Officials at the Ministry of Health were unavailable to comment.
The striking doctors say they have faced intransigence of various forms including being investigated for striking by hospital administrators.
Despite the alleged intransigence and lack of response from health officials, the committee governing the strike agreed in a meeting last Friday that the doctors would not escalate their action to a total strike. The doctors said such a strike would harm patients and that would be exploited to challenge the legality of the strike and would lose the doctors public support.
The committee said that even though a total strike contradicts doctors’ ethics, if some doctors did stop work entirely it would be the responsibility of officials, “who have not taken one serious step to solve the problems of the collapsed health system.”
The doctors have outlined possible further action, including collecting signatures calling for the resignation of the Minister of Health, Mohamed Mostafa Hamed, and three of his aides.
The doctors’ strike started on 1 October, following a decision by the General Assembly of the Doctors’ Union. More than 50 days on, doctors say they are prepared for the long haul.
The strike has three main demands: increasing the health budget from less than three per cent of the state budget to 15 per cent over three years; a minimum wage Ministry of Health workers; and harsher penalties for those who attack hospitals.
Several recent attacks on hospitals forced some emergency departments to close.
Doctors have held several protests across the country to raise awareness of their cause including a symbolic funeral for healthcare earlier this month and a protest on Tuesday in Alexandria.
Doctors are planning a symbolic trial of those responsible for “killing” Egypt’s healthcare on Thursday.