- New Health minister Sekatle set for talks with nurses in a bid to end strike.
A CRIPPLING strike by nurses at Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) enters its seventh day tomorrow.
Newly appointed Health minister Semano Sekatle yesterday told the Sunday Express that he would tomorrow meet Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) representatives for talks aimed at resolving the nurses’ grievances and ending the strike.
QMMH nurses and nursing assistants went on strike last Monday to press the government to award them salary increments to match their counterparts in other government and private institutions.
The job action followed the health ministry’s failure to address the nurses’ grievances by the 27 January 2021 deadline given by the nurses.
The strike entered its sixth day yesterday with nurses and nursing assistants refusing to yield to the hospital authorities’ directive for them to return to work.
QMMH public relations manager, Mothepane Thahane, had on Wednesday said the workers should return to work failing which they would face disciplinary hearings for ignoring lawful orders.
Unless it ends soon, the strike will certainly cripple the already ailing health sector which is struggling to deal with Covid-19 infections which have risen exponentially since the end of the festive season at the beginning of last month.
Lesotho had recorded a cumulative total of 9380 infections and 183 deaths by yesterday.
Apart from the current Covid-19 burden, nurses and other health workers are struggling to deal with other diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis. A strike at QMMH at this point in time is therefore placing a greater strain on the entire health sector as the hospital is Lesotho’s main referral institution.
QMMH nurses say they have not been awarded any increments since 2012 when the government and the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) increased the salaries of nurses at other institutions.
According to the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA), nurses at QMMH earn about M9000 each per month. The figure is way less than the M13 000 earned by their colleagues in CHAL facilities and other government hospitals.
Opened in 2011, QMMH is owned by the government but is run by the Tšepong consortium comprising of five companies, namely Netcare Healthcare Group and Afri’nnai of South Africa, as well as Excel Health, Women Investment and D10 Investments from Lesotho.
Although QMMH operates as a public-private sector partnership (PPP) agreement between the government and the Tšepong consortium, the hospital’s public relations manager, Mothepane Thahane, last week said nursing staff and nursing assistants were left out when the government reviewed the salaries of health workers in 2012.
Minister Sekatle was only moved to the health portfolio from the Public Service ministry on Wednesday by Prime Minister Moeketsi. He could not have asked for a tougher start to his new job.
The previous incumbent, Motlatsi Maqelepo, is now Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation minister. He failed to stop the nurses from striking.
Now Mr Sekatle has to negotiate an end to the strike.
Yesterday, he told this publication that he met QMMH authorities on Friday to discuss the nurses’ salary grievances.
He said he had asked the hospital authorities to examine the possibility of reviewing the nurses’ salaries and to report back to him before the end of the week.
“We met on Friday and agreed that QMMH authorities would examine the issue to see if they can afford the increments demanded by the nurses. Thereafter, they will report back to me before the end of the week,” Mr Sekatle said.
On her part, Ms Thahane blamed the frequent changes of governments for the failure to resolve the hospital’s problems.
“Every time there is a change of government or a new minister, we have to start from scratch and we never see progress. However, this time there is some progress towards addressing the strike and our hope is that we will soon make a breakthrough,” Ms Thahane said yesterday.