Nurses call off strike, return to work It was business as usual as nurses at Mpilo Central Hospital returned to work yesterday.

Striking nurses yesterday returned to work following a decision by their representative body, the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina), to give dialogue a chance.

The health workers had declared incapacitation on June 18 but reversed their decision after engagements with the Minister of health and Child Care, who is also the country’s Vice-President, Cde Constantino Chiwenga.

The development brought relief to patients countrywide who were facing challenges in accessing basic medical care as some alleged hospitals were turning them away.

The country’s two major referral hospitals in the southern region, Mpilo Central Hospital and the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH), where a majority of health care workers had downed tools, hit the ground running and there was significant increase in activity.

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At Gweru Provincial Hospital (GPH) where only 10 out of 300 nurses had joined the industrial action, everyone reported for duty. The nurses at Mpilo Central Hospital and UBH had joined their counterparts countrywide in withdrawing their labour on June 18 despite the spike in confirmed Covid-19 cases. However, the strike had been declared illegal by Health Services Board (HSB), the board, which employs the nurses.

The Chronicle news crew yesterday visited Mpilo Central Hospital and UBH and officials at the institutions confirmed that nurses were back at work. The news crew observed nurses attending to patients.

Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer, Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said although nurses had in the past two weeks been gradually returning to work, yesterday all of them resumed duty.

“I can confirm that almost 100 percent of our nurses at Mpilo Central Hospital have returned to work. In fact, in the last two weeks we have been recording an improvement in terms of numbers averaging between 90 percent to 98 percent and now they are back to 100 percent,” he said.

Dr Ngwenya said they were already in the process of reopening more services including some wards, which were temporarily closed due to inadequate nursing staff.

“We had closed some wards due to lack of staff and now that all nurses are back, we are in the process of reopening them,” he said.

Mpilo Central Hospital has a full complement of about 800 nurses.

UBH acting CEO, Dr Narcisius Dzvanga said all nurses at the hospital returned to work.

“We have been affected by the nurses’ strike, which had crippled our services. However, I am glad all our nurses are back at work and we are now operating normally in all our wards,” he said.

GPH medical superintendent Dr Fabion Mashingaidze said the 30 nurses who had stopped going to work had started reporting for duty. “Most of our nurses were not on strike, fortunately for us. Out of the 300 nurses we have about 10 percent who were on strike and have started coming back,” he said.

Dr Mashingaidze commended staff at GPH saying patients have never been turned away.

Zina secretary-general Mr Enock Dongo yesterday told the Chronicle that they agreed to return to work while negotiations with their employer were still going on. Zina represents more than 15 000 nurses countrywide. He said they will today hold a tripartite meeting during which the issue of incapacitation and protective clothing would take centre stage.

“Although we didn’t reach an agreement with Government, we felt that we should first give our (Health and Child Care) Minister, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and his Permanent Secretary (Air Commodore Jasper Chimedza) a chance since they are still new in the ministry. They requested us to return to work while still negotiating and as courtesy we agreed as nurses to give them a chance and we are hopeful they will address our issues,” said Mr Dongo.

“We are giving our minister a chance to start on a fresh page and look at our concerns, which is why we encouraged our members to return to work.”

Mr Dongo said although Zina was aware that its members were incapacitated, he urged them to start reporting for duty and subsidise the Government by raising bus fare.

“Most of our members do not have the capacity to report for work, but we have said we are now going back to work. We are happy that today we were informed that tomorrow (today) there is going to be a meeting between Zina, HSB and Treasury to discuss our issues with the hope of addressing our situation,” he said.

Mr Dongo said in light of Covid-19, nurses should not risk their lives by operating without personal protective equipment (PPEs).

“We regard every person admitted to the hospital as a Covid-19 patient, which why we are saying nurses should not take any chances by performing their duties without PPEs,” he said. The new position taken by nurses is expected to pave the way for the end of the industrial action. Government has started restructuring the country’s healthcare system and has since assured health workers that efforts are underway to address their grievances.

The Health Ministry is being overhauled to ensure efficiency following the dismissal of VP Chiwenga’ predecessor, Dr Obadiah Moyo on corruption and criminal abuse office charges.

Vice-President Chiwenga was recently assigned an additional task of taking charge of the Health Ministry which is under the spotlight because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is expected that the wide-ranging reforms will transform the health sector by introducing systems that work in the national interest. Chronicle

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