Doctors strained

Doctors at the ANGAU Memorial Provincial Hospital are at their wits’ end as the stress of COVID-19 adds on to their existing issues.

Staff shortage, temporary positions and unpaid gratuity are just some of their concerns that have fallen on deaf ears.

A media briefing was held at the ANGAU chapel on Thursday morning, where the National Doctors Association – Morobe president, Dr Barry Mutan, said they have submitted nine petitions already regarding the issue of manpower shortage.

“Hevi blo kisim wokman ya, em hevi blo haus sik blo yumi o em hevi blo DPM (Department of Personnel Management)? Bikos em wok lo go long taim tumas na mipla wok lo lukim olsem em i no seif lo ol dokta long kain taim olsem.”

Dr Mutan, who is a surgeon at ANGAU, said DPM has to act swiftly if they have the power to recruit new staff, considering health workers at ANGAU are expected to work at the COVID-19 hospital as well.

Sharing similar sentiments was Emergency Medicine specialist, Dr Donna Piamnok, who outlined that their medical team has two specialists, five clinical registrars and a clinical health extension officer. One of them contracted the virus while one of their five administrative staff also tested positive.

“According to our standard operating procedure relating to COVID-19 cases, when one tests positive, then we have to keep in isolation all those who’ve worked on that shift.”

Dr Piamnok elaborated that a shift consists of two nursing officers, a community health worker, an administrative staff and a registrar.

“So out of a team of 30-something, I’m already isolating five,” she stated.

“That’s just for emergency; just to give you an idea of the challenges we are facing.”

The situation is further worsened with the prolonged turnaround of COVID-19 test results, which take over a week to reach individuals.

This forces the heads of departments to make decisions on whether to isolate their own staff at the COVID-19 facility or treat them as other patients.

This was why operations have been scaled down at ANGAU.

Furthermore, most of the doctors are yet to be confirmed to their positions, with Dr Mutan saying six of their senior medical officers are still working as casuals.

Moreover, doctors who are entitled to gratuity have not received their 2020 benefits yet. The payment is four months overdue, with Dr Mutan saying this was one of the issues that they have been consistently raising.

“They have to find that money and make the payment to doctors who are already here on the ground and working with all these crisis and other ongoing health problems.”

The health workers have been on ground since day one of COVID-19 in PNG.

“We will not run away from COVID; we will deal with COVID. But there are issues that we have been talking about for the past two years or 18 months. It’s come to a time where we can’t help it anymore,” said Dr Mutan.

If nothing is done practically to lessen the doctors’ burdens, they will walk off their jobs on Wednesday, March 31st.

(National Doctors Association – Morobe president, Dr Barry Mutan, left, with Emergency Medicine specialist, Dr Donna Piamnok on the right with their colleagues during the media briefing on Thursday)

Carmella Gware