Doctors, dentists and pharmacists launched on Saturday an open ended strike after repeated one-day strikes by doctors in 2014 failed to achieve their demands.
Conflicting figures on strike participation rates have been provided by the committee organising the strike and the Ministry of Health. The committee said that the participation rate was 80% nationwide but the ministry reported a smaller figure of only 32%, according to state-run MENA.
Like previous doctors’ strikes, this one is a partial strike, in which only outpatient clinics stop operating but essential and emergency healthcare services are provided to patients. The Ministry of Health said that on Saturday only 162 hospitals’ outpatient clinics went on strike, out of a total of 514.
In addition to the strike, doctors are set to begin collecting group resignations which will be handed to the Ministry of Health when the number of resignations reaches a critical number of 20,000, said Hossam Kamal, the Rapporteur of the Media Committee of the Doctors’ Syndicate. These resignations will either all be accepted or rejected altogether, Kamal added.
Kamal said the conflicting figures are a result of the different ways that the information is being collected. “The ministry collects information from hospital directors,” who want to portray that everything is fine inside the hospitals they are running while the committee governing the strike is collecting information from “doctors inside hospitals.”
The striking medical professionals said they are continuing the open ended strike until their demands are met. Health Minister Adel Al-Adawi ordered on Sunday the formation of a committee to hold negotiations between the ministry and the syndicate in order to determine the strikers’ demands and solutions to overcome the crisis, state Al-Ahram reported. The last rounds of negotiations were held between the ministries of Health, Finance and the syndicate last December. However, the talks ended without resolving longstanding issues. Kamal had said last month that during the talks the government was speaking and listening to itself.”
The main demands of the strikers include the passing of the draft Staff Law, which is a law that would organise both administrative affairs like training, promotions and working hours and financial affairs for all healthcare professionals. They also demand that the budget for health be raised to “international standards,” or 9% of the state budget starting from the next fiscal year.
On 6 February, interim President Adly Mansour ratified a different law, one which was rejected by the Doctors’ Syndicate. Kamal said the law that was approved does not include any of the administrative aspects of the draft Staff Law, which would not have incurred any costs on the state.
Regarding the financial aspect of the draft Staff Law, Kamal believes that a simple redistribution of the money available for wages inside the Ministry of Health and the money allocated by the Ministry of Finance to implement the law recently ratified by President Mansour should suffice to guarantee that everyone in the healthcare sector receives reasonable incomes.
The majority of doctors’ incomes are made up of incentives, rather than a fixed salary.
The amount of incentives a doctor receives is based on their performance, which is assessed by the hospital administration, leaving room for personal relations to affect how much a doctor makes. After retiring, a doctor’s pension is determined based on fixed salary.
Doctors have for years been calling for reforms to Egypt’s crumbling healthcare system. They had previously resorted to an open-ended strike in 2012, one that lasted over 80 days. It ended with the understanding that the draft Staff Law would be passed. In 2013, the draft law was handed to the Shura Council, but the legislature was disbanded before passing the law.
After the negotiations in December failed, doctors went ahead with their plans to strike, starting 2014 with a strike on 1 January and another one on 8 January, in which they were joined by pharmacists. In February, doctors held strikes twice a week, but these strikes had markedly lower participation rates than the ones in January.
On 21 February, doctors held a general assembly meeting and decided then to stage an open ended strike on 8 March and collect mass resignations in parallel with strike. Tensions between the syndicate and the Health Ministry had soared under the tenure of former Health Minister Maha Al-Rabat.
During the general assembly meeting last month, doctors demanded the dismissal of Al-Rabat because she “deliberately humiliates doctors and stands against their rights.” After Prime Minister Hazem El-Bebalwi resigned on 24 January, Al-Rabat was excluded from the new cabinet led by current Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and replaced with Al-Adawi.