Government is considering changing internship conditions for junior doctors to avert future work disruptions that expose patients to risk, Acting President Constantino Chiwenga has said.
Strikes by employees at public health institutions have become a yearly routine.
Addressing journalists yesterday after touring Natpharm Company and the pharmacy department at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, Acting President Chiwenga said the current system treated junior doctors as employees of the Ministry of Health and Child Care yet they had not completed training.
“We are going to look at our systems because we have found that the systems which were being followed were not correct.
“When somebody is still and not yet finished (medical school) you cannot call him a junior doctor. He is still on internship and those regulations are going to be looked at,” said Acting President Chiwenga.
He said the new regulations would soon be brought before Parliament.
“Government has spent a lot of money training these young doctors, as they want to call them, but I think they are still on internship; they are not yet junior doctors,” said the Acting President.
The junior doctors went on strike at the beginning of this month demanding improved working conditions and better salaries. They have rejected appeals by Government to return to work for the sake of patients while their grievances are being looked into.
Currently the Ministry of Health and Child Care is responsible for the junior doctors, and not the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development.
They can only be registered as doctors after they complete their seven-year training.
Registration allows them to treat patients but under supervision by senior doctors for at least two years, a process known as housemanship or internship.
During the seven-year training period, they are taken as interns.
“These are some of the things we need to look at. The Ministry of Health and Child Care was taking over somebody who was still a student who has not yet completed his or her studies and this is wrong. We will not entertain wrong things. The law does not allow that,” said Acting President Chiwenga.
On doctors suspended last week for engaging in the strike, the Acting President said Ministers of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development and of Health and Child Care have since been tasked to ensure that all medical students, who are ready for internship, were registered to resume as soon as possible.
He reiterated that the industrial action by the junior doctors was illegal.
Acting President Chiwenga said the junior doctors had defied the Labour Court ruling earlier this week, which gave them 12 hours to return to work resulting in their suspension.
He said the health sector was part of essential services and employees were not allowed to down tools.
“They withdrew their labour when they had not pursued all that is required by the labour laws of our country and they went to court and the courts found them on the wrong side of the law and what we would have expected is they were going to come back,” said Acting President Chiwenga.
Speaking at the same occasion, Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira said grievances must be negotiated instead of taking people’s lives as pawns.
“It is very important to us that whenever there are problems in the country we need to uphold the sanctity of life, we need to uphold the Hippocratic Oath,” said Prof Murwira.
“If there are grievances, they are negotiated. We do not hold people’s lives as pawns in our game.
“So I believe that as we do our higher and tertiary education system we are going to make necessary changes that are good for our students, but that are principally good for the nation,” he said.
He said they were working on the new system.
On the suspended junior doctors, Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said Government was now guided by the rule of law.
He said the junior doctors were given 12 hours to comply with the law but defied it.
He said the Health Service Board would now pursue issues of discipline against the suspended doctors.
“They were given 12 hours to correct the situation, but they chose not to do so.
“We are going by the rule of law as indicated by the Presidency. The HSB is there to follow procedures as laid down; to look into the grievances and issues relating to disciplines,” said Dr Moyo.
He said the candidates who had just completed their five-year training were expected to start internship on January 2 2019.
Junior doctors went on strike on December 1 demanding a review of their working conditions.
They also wanted salaries in United States dollar.
Last week Government suspended 530 health professionals including the junior doctors for embarking on an illegal industrial action.