Doctors plan to start a ‘partial strike’ on 1 January, as per a decision taken during an emergency session of the General Assembly of the Doctor’s Syndicate on Friday.
A statement by the syndicate indicated that the doctors unanimously voted to back the draft Staff Law which would organise financial, administrative and technical affairs for all medical professionals.
“The General Assembly approved of taking escalatory measures to pressure concerned authorities to implement the law in order to improve healthcare services offered to citizens,” the statement read.
The current strike comes as physicians continue to push for the Staff Law and other demands.
A 2012 partial strike began on 1 October, 2012 and lasted over 80 days ending in December with the understanding that the drafting and implementation of the Staff Law would shortly follow.
The partial strike, which is scheduled to start in January, would involve the same persuasive measures used in the 2012 partial strike when doctors treated patients with free healthcare in internal hospital departments like the emergency department, halting the operations of outpatient clinics where patients are charged for treatment. The draft staff law was initially agreed upon in May 2012 however was later modified as Unions representing the greater community of medical professionals, other than physicians, successfully lobbied for inclusion in the bill.
The draft law was submitted to the People’s Assembly , but was not approved before the legislature was dissolved . In early 2013, the modified version was handed to the Shura Council, the country’s only legislature at the time, but again, the legislature did not survive to pass the law.
The draft law would have secured an EGP 3,000 minimum income for doctors. However Emtiaz Hassoona, board member of the syndicate and member of the right’s group Doctors Without Rights, emphasised the fact that the law concerned “more than just income.”
Hassoona stated that the law has further concerns such as providing young doctors with training in administrative matters, such as promotions and working hours . “We have doctors working up to 72 hours in the intensive care unit,” she said. “How are they supposed to manage critical patients like this? They end up collapsing,”
In addition to the Staff Law, the 2012 partial strike also pushed for passing a law to enforce harsher penalties on anyone who commits an act of aggression against doctors or hospitals as well as raising the state budget for health to improve healthcare services for patients nationwide.
In October, the Ministries of Health and Finance announced the finalisation of a new draft law, the Medical Incentives Law. The law would have cost EGP 6bn annually but Taher El-Moktar, board member of the Doctor’s Syndicate in Alexandria said it does not represent the demands of the doctors.
While the draft Staff Law proposed a minimum income of EGP 3,000, state-run Al-Ahram reported that the draft Medical Incentives Law would grant freshly graduated doctors a gross salary of only EGP 1,800.
Hassoona said with the way things are going now, “we are pushing doctors away.” She said that out of 250,000 doctors registered with the syndicate, only 90,000 work in Egypt and only 60,000 of those work in the public health sector, while the rest work in private practice.
“Our strike is the ‘free treatment strike,’” she said. “The patient is not party (to the conflict).”
She further indicated that Medical Services Workers Syndicate, representing medical professionals other than doctors, is holding a General Assembly and has said they “might coordinate the partial strike with the doctors.”
During the Friday session, the doctors also agreed on holding midterm elections on 13 December. The Doctor’s Syndicate is currently controlled by a board consisting mostly of members of the Muslim Brotherhood
Commenting on the timing of the elections, El-Moktar said the midterm elections should be held every two years and were scheduled for October. “There is nothing exceptional about holding them now. Postponing them was exceptional,” he said, adding that the board had postponed the elections in an earlier general assembly.
Despite the Brotherhood-dominated syndicate board, the decision to strike last year was taken by a general assembly, as well as the decision to suspend the strike . This seems to indicate that, at least regarding the draft law, the often-divided syndicate has reluctantly come to a consensus.