Patients Stranded Over Salary Dispute

AS many as 80 patients were kept waiting in long queues all day yesterday, looking for medicine at the Katutura Intermediate Hospital, because of wage disputes between assistant pharmacists and the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

Assistant pharmacists at clinics around Windhoek turned patients away after a letter from the Office of the Prime Minister ordered that they should not administer medication without the supervision of qualified pharmacists.

The health ministry has been facing a shortage of qualified pharmacists, with most of the public pharmacies being run by assistant pharmacists.

An assistant pharmacist at one of the clinics, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Namibian that government had deliberately given the directive as a way to avoid paying them their deserved salaries.

“The issue has been pending since last year when we demanded that our salaries should be increased due to the workload. We may not be qualified pharmacists with degrees but we basically do everything a pharmacist does,” she said, adding that the average salary for an assistant pharmacist is N$7 000.

The assistant pharmacist further said she was forced to refer patients to the Katutura Intermediate Hospital, which has pharmacists with degrees.

The dispute was sparked by an appeal by assistant pharmacists against the outcome of a job evaluation and regrading exercise with the health ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister that has been pending since last year.

In a letter addressed to the ministry’s permanent secretary, Andrew Ndishishi, dated 17 June 2014, the Office of the Prime Minister said a panel recommended that the appeal by assistant pharmacists should be addressed as part of the ongoing restructuring process.

But Ndishishi said there was a misunderstanding between the ministry and the assistant pharmacists and that they were not asked to stop administering medicine.

“The assistant pharmacists simply misinterpreted the letter,” Ndishishi said, adding that the letter says they cannot be expected to be paid at the level of pharmacists due to the limitation of their qualifications.

Ndishishi also said he had a meeting with the pharmacists at the Katutura Intermediate Hospital yesterday to clarify the miscommunication.

He further said the ministry was in the process of training 50 students to address the shortage.

At Katutura Intermediate Hospital yesterday, patients, including pensioners, women and children, said they had been waiting since 06h00 for prescriptions, but by 16h00 they still had not been assisted.

A mother of an eight-month-old baby with measles, Ndapewa Daniels, said she was forced to sleep outside at the hospital together with 19 other mothers with sick babies on Monday evening hoping to get medicine.

Daniels also said many of the other mothers left without being assisted.

A 54-year-old woman, Isabel Tweshiholekwa, who has a heart condition, had to lie down on the bench because she was too weak to sit.

“We don’t know what the delay is. We were only informed that they (pharmacists) were in a meeting which has taken all day,” said Johanna Paulus, whose seven-month-old baby had a fever.

A Cuban pharmacist, who was later put in charge of administering the medicine kept yelling at the agitated patients to wait because she was alone at the pharmacy.

Source : The Namibian