One thousand four hundredÂ years of combined training are going to waste for close to 200 qualified national medical doctors who are whiling away their trade as administrators.
In a country beset by an inordinately berserk doctor-patient ratio, it boggles oneâ€™s mind to imagine that our system allows for such specialists to spend much of their time away from patients.
Thanks in part to their powerful bargaining power; our medical doctors receive almost a uniform rung by rung call allowance, differentiated only by seniority.
As they say, numbers donâ€™t cheat; we have close to 100 districts each administratively run under the health sector by a medical officer. Most are not attached to clinics and hospitals but receive the standard call allowance, as part of their highly negotiated wider remuneration.
Although by comparative terms, it is a drop in the ocean, this does not explain why they do not practise their core business of medicine. Some districts also tag along clinical specialists and pharmacists bringing to three the number of such administrators at that lower level.
Add to this the team at provincial level involving a clinical care specialist, a pharmacist and a medical officer, we have another group, whose primary role has been relegated to administration.
At my last county (section) Ndeke, that stone masonry that houses the Ministry of Health headquarters had dozens of qualified medical doctors, who have hung their stethoscopes. Signing cheques and procurement is their new pastime.
A medical doctor friend of mine complained that it seems our country places more value on administrators, which literary attracts our creamier doctors. â€œBudgets, promotions, demotions, career development plans, workshops, unplanned trips and their related allowances are controlled by blue-eyed administrative medical doctors.â€ A call to have them wedded to clinics and hospitals has in the past received such sharp protestations that the status quo is set to remain the same for years to come.
Lusaka Province has more than 100 clinics, health centres and hospitals begging the presence of qualified medics, at doctor level. Critics say linking a call allowance to a geographical health centre, clinic or hospital for all doctors could help sort the mess.
â€œWe have doctors receiving call allowances despite not being on any hospital call list,â€ lamented one nurse found single-handedly attending to patients at a health centre which she claimed acted like a first-level hospital.
A clinical officer who opted for anonymity fearing retributions said almost all directorates at Ndeke House are headed, deputised and assisted by medical doctors. â€œThis in itself is not bad but their refusal to be on hospital call lists, which to them is like Ebolaâ€.
Proponents of the current status quo contend that doctors undergo 10 years undergraduate and postgraduate training that should not be trampled by graduates in public administration. â€œI would not want, at district level, to be led by someone with a degree in administration, who spent half as much time as I did at university,â€ was a reply from a University Teaching Hospital doctor.
He cited his fellow UTH-based doctors as having volunteered to be on the hospital call list and that those in all districts should follow suit. â€œThere are some medical doctor administrators with a human heart who serve their local hospitals. An exception is those in certain districts and at bureaucratic Ndeke House.â€
With a new government in place there are loud calls to have all medical doctors, whether in administration or not, to be put on hospital call lists. In this way they could earn their call allowance and be of service to our medically deprived people.
The author is aÂ social and political commentator.
Administrative medical doctors fiasco