/ 8 July 2009

Give negotiations a chance, doctors told

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) has called on striking doctors to give negotiations a chance, and on the government not to manipulate public opinion.

”This call is rooted in the SACC’s compassion and care for all people, and especially the poor and vulnerable members of our society,” its general secretary, Eddie Makue, said in a statement on Wednesday.

”Life, health and well-being of millions of people are adversely affected by the ongoing strike,” he said.

”Many pregnant women are unable to access the care and support that will contribute towards demonstrating how we value the gift of life by caring for unborn children.

”Many frail parents and children are dying and living with pain and uncertainty because they have been deprived of even basic healthcare.

”Many of our sisters and brothers who are living with HIV/Aids are inhibited from acquiring appropriate health services.

”This is particularly evident in rural, poverty stricken and marginalised communities.”

Doctors and other medical workers embarked on an illegal strike last month in protest against low salaries and bad working conditions.

The South African Medical Association (Sama) is holding secret ballots this week to determine whether its members should accept a revised wage offer by the government.

The SACC had been observing the strike with ”trepidation”, said Makue.

”We hope and pray that the employers [government] and doctors would speedily reach an agreement and that the strike will come to an end,” he said.

”Our national health system is sick and demands urgent attention from government.

”Even now the SACC approaches the strike action with great caution, acknowledging that the existing negotiation process can be complex.”

The SACC saluted those doctors who had decided to return to work.

”Caring for the health of fellow human beings is a profession that demands extraordinary commitment and sacrifice. This does not exclude the right to strike,” said Makue.

”However, the plight of the poor and marginalised people has always been a priority and theological preference of the SACC.”

It was on behalf of these poor and often voiceless people that it was calling on the doctors to give the negotiation process a chance and on the government to be sensitive to the genuine needs and reasonable requirements of doctors and a functioning healthcare system.

”We earnestly appeal to all doctors to place the care of patients first,” he said.”

The SACC recognised and appreciated the ”selfless sacrifices” being made by many medical doctors,” he said.

”Such recognition must be reflected in the occupation-specific dispensation agreements between employers and our medical doctors.”

The SACC believed that protracted and ongoing strike action militated against the individual’s right to healthcare services, threatening the constitutional provision giving everyone the right to life.

”We therefore urge government to do everything possible to resolve the dispute in an amicable manner,” said Makue. — Sapa