The Saturday morning assault of a nurse at the Kenyatta National Hospital has galvanised her colleagues into speaking up about the dangers they face at work.
Mildred Akinyi was beaten and strangled by five relatives of a patient who had died a few hours earlier, sparking outrage among nurses and clinical officers at the country’s largest referral hospital.
According to some of Ms Akinyi’s colleagues, she was a locum – one of 220 nurses who have been ‘undergoing orientation’ at KNH for five years and are yet to be hired on permanent terms.
A number of locum nurses who spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity narrated similar experiences of working in a hostile environment.
Akinyi is recovering. Hospital officials said she had left the high dependency unit and was admitted in KNH’s private wing.
According to a hospital statement, Akinyi was assaulted following the death of a 17-year-old leukemia patient, who had been admitted since June.
Fellow nurses said the patient’s brother got to the hospital at 7am after being informed of the death. He left and returned at 10am with five relatives, including his mother and father. The relatives then allegedly assaulted Akinyi as a different nurse prepared the body for viewing.
“The hospital management condemns in the strongest terms possible this unfortunate incident and overall, any assault on any of its staff. To this end, the hospital will work hand in hand with the relevant authorities to ensure that such incidences do not recur and assure safety of patients and staff,” read a statement signed by KNH CEO Thomas Mutie.
While calling on patients and families to be courteous to staff and follow proper channels to resolve disagreements, Dr Mutie told the nurses that working in unpredictable environments like hospitals meant they had to expect anything.
But Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Secretary General Ouma Oluga condemned what he said was a worrying yet growing trend of attacks on medical practitioners.
“We are tired of the attacks. Hospitals must ensure security for both patients and workers. We also have rights. If we cannot be guaranteed our security, we will take matters into our hands,” Dr Oluga said yesterday when he met the nurses.
The visit by officials from KMPDU and the Kenya National Union of Nurses was also intended to bolster the locums’ push to be allowed to form their own union. This after it emerged that their tenure at the hospital had been less rewarding.
“The hospital brought us here years ago promising to monitor our performance before employing us. It has been five years and we are still waiting,” said a nurse who joined KNH in 2013.
The nurses said they were paid Sh300 an hour for a maximum of 150 hours each month, translating to Sh45,000 a month. This, they said, was insufficient pay, considering their strenuous working conditions.
“We are overwhelmed,” one nurse said. “The ideal nurse-to-patient ratio is one to eight, but we oversee more than 20 patients each at a time.”
Some of the nurses said it was clear the hospital would never offer them stable jobs, but they remained for lack of better options