The Doctors’ Syndicate decided Friday to suspend the doctors’ strike following an emergency meeting, adding that their gains are the maximum that could have been achieved under the country’s “extremely difficult” conditions.
The syndicate’s bureau met on Friday after the second scheduled general assembly meeting was cancelled due to lack of quorum. The bureau met after only 173 doctors showed up for a general assembly meeting when 300 people were needed to make quorum. An earlier attempt to hold a general assembly meeting on 25 April was also cancelled after failing to fulfill quorum of 1,000 doctors.
In a statement, the bureau said: “The lack of quorum is tantamount to tacit approval of the results of negotiations [with the government] and to holding the syndicate council responsible for decision making.”
Hossam Kamal, the rapporteur of the syndicate’s media committee said that what was achieved is part of the doctors’ rights, gained under the interim government until there is a lasting government with which we can hold negotiations.
The results of the negotiations include amendments to the law regulating incentives and compensation of people working in the healthcare sector, which led to the “improvement of compensations” and the bearing of the full costs of post graduate studies by the health ministry. On Wednesday, the cabinet approved these amendments, which also require the ministry to organise periodic training sessions.
Additionally, the negotiations led to the issuance of two ministerial decrees, one of which addresses medical care for doctors.
In the days leading up to the strike, Ahmed Abdel Latif died after he contracted a fatal infection from a patient. Abdel Latif’s death sparked an outcry because he was receiving hazardous pay of only EGP 19 a month as compensation for working at a place where he could contract infections. The syndicate decided to dedicate the strike to him after the conditions of his death sparked outrage among medical professionals.
The partial strike began on 8 March after negotiations between representatives of the syndicate and the ministries of Health and Finance failed last week to resolve long standing issues; the talks, however, were during the tenure of former health minister Maha Al-Rabat.
One of the doctors’ top demands is the passing of draft Staff Law, which organises their financial and administrative matters like training, promotions and working hours for all professionals in the public healthcare sector. Kamal said that the draft law would mean the “restructuring of the healthcare institution”.
The syndicate bureau said that what was gained from the strike was not the law “but it is a step on the way”. It added that now was the time for “a warrior’s rest” and the strike’s suspension until the draft law is submitted to the first elected legislature.
In addition to the draft law, doctors demanded a rise in the state’s budget for health, which currently stands at 4.6%, to register between 8% and 10%. He added that this is what they will be focusing on in the upcoming period in order for the budget to rise starting the next fiscal year. “A service cannot be provided under this budget,” Kamal said.
After about 10 days of striking, the doctors met with current Health Minister Adel Al-Adawi and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb. Kamal said that Al-Adawi was more cooperative than his predecessor and that he supported the doctors’ demands during cabinet meetings.
The draft law in its latest form came to life after extensive talks were held between unions of all medical professionals and relevant ministries. Doctors are heavily underpaid and a law passed earlier this year to raise their incentives was rejected by the syndicate. A bulk of doctors’ incomes is made up of bonuses and incentives; however, doctors demand that pay raises increase their fixed salary, which the draft staff law would achieve if passed. Incentives are calculated based on a doctor’s performance and after retiring, a doctor’s pension is determined based on the 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.
The doctor’s strike includes all hospitals and medical institutions that operate within the public healthcare sector, all non-emergency medical services and outpatient clinics. However, the emergency department, emergency operations, kidney dialysis, intensive care units and incubators continue to run normally.