Ntsebeng Motsoeli and ‘Mantoetse Maama
MASERU — About 50 nurses and nursing assistants at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital have been fired for striking.
The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare says the strike, which started on Monday, is illegal.
Queen Elizabeth II Hospital is Lesotho’s biggest and only referral hospital.
The nurses and their assistants downed tools on Monday morning protesting what they called “poor working conditions” and meagre salaries.
However, Ministry of Health principal secretary Karabo Mokobocho-Mohlakoana on Thursday dispatched a memo to the striking health workers telling them they had been fired.
Mokobocho-Mohlakoana released the memo at around 4:30pm.
The striking nurses and their assistants who were still at the hospital premises at that time ignored memo.
On Wednesday the ministry had tried in vain to persuade them to go back to work while their grievances were being addressed.
Mokobocho-Mohlakoana had told the nurses who were picketing at the hospital gate that they were required to resume work “within 30 minutes”.
“Following various notices issued to yourselves and subsequent meetings with your elected representatives and yourselves urging you to go back to work, you have failed to heed this instruction,” Mokobocho-Mohlakoana said in the memo.
“This notice serves to inform you that you are all dismissed with immediate effect.
“You are therefore instructed to leave the premises of Queen Elizabeth II Hospital immediately upon receipt of this memo.”
But the health workers remained adamant saying Mokobocho-Mohlakoana “had no right to fire them”.
“We do not know who Mokobocho-Mohlakoana is to fire us,” an irate female nursing assistant told the Sunday Express.
“She is not our employer. We are coming here again tomorrow (Friday).”
And Friday morning they did gather at the gate again waving placards and singing protest songs.
They said they would not be intimidated by anyone and insisted they would not leave the hospital premises until Health Minister Mphu Ramatlapeng had addressed them.
They then wrote a letter to Ramatlapeng requesting her intervention.
“We kindly bring to your attention that after several meetings we had with the principal secretary of health concerning our grievances no solutions have been made towards matters brought forth,” the letter said.
“We respectfully appeal to the minister to intervene in this matter.”
The Sunday Express can reveal that the health ministry is now planning to apply to the Public Service Commission for permission to hire unqualified nursing assistants to fill the void left by those fired.
Sources close to the matter say there are also plans to transfer some nurses from the districts to work at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.
But information received yesterday indicates that even those in the districts are also planning to join the strike in solidarity with their fired colleagues.
Doctors too, sources said, are not happy with the ministry’s decision to fire the nurses.
There is speculation that they too could end up joining the strike.
Already doctors are not happy with their working conditions and salaries.
Over the past six months expatriate doctors hired from Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have left in droves.
They say Lesotho is paying the lowest salaries in the region.
A significant number has been lured by Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland which are offering better salaries.
Meanwhile, patients in a surgical male ward at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital have written a letter to the hospital management complaining about their conditions which they say have worsened since the nurses went on strike.
They handed the letter to the management on Friday morning.
The patients told the Sunday Express that, while the nurses and the management fought, conditions at the hospital were worsening.
“I am from Qacha’s Nek and I was referred to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. I was admitted on Wednesday and when I arrived here I found nurses on strike,” said one patient who refused to be named.
“Last night one patient fell from his bed. We had to get up from our beds to help him.
“We struggled because we were too weak to lift him from the floor.”
“This hospital is not clean at all,” he added. “There are cockroaches, rats and ants. They bite us. They walk all over our food. It is not healthy.”
He said a few of the health practitioners who did not go on strike were “rough and mean” to them.
“While some patients’ wounds are being dressed, others are given food while at the same time others will be receiving their medication,” the patient said.
He said they were overcrowded in one ward. This would make it easier for infections to pass on to other patients.
“The situation in this hospital is not good for us because we might get more infections,” he said.
Another patient complained that patients with various illnesses were being kept in Ward Four which is supposed to be the male surgical ward.
Even the mentally disturbed patients were being kept in Ward Four, he said.
“There were two men who had mental disorders in the same ward with us,” he said.
“We were scared they would harm us because they were all over the place when they lost their temper and became violent.”
Ministry of Health spokesperson Tumisang Mokoai confirmed they had received a letter from the patients.
“There was a letter written by male patients from Ward Four. We asked them to follow the right procedures,” Mokoai said.