The Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) though surprised by a media report published on Tuesday 1st of September of a looming strike by nurses, it is pleased to provide a response to the article. This is to ensure that issues raised publicly are clearly explained to avoid any unnecessary alarm especially at this time of the State of Public Emergency and ongoing administration of the China- Honiara repatriation flight.
The Ministry is fully aware of the issue of delay in payments of COVID-19 allowances and since the commencement of COVID-19 operations, have worked tirelessly to ensure timely completion of paper works and verification at MHMS before onward submission to the Ministry of Finance and Treasury (MoFT). Nevertheless, these processes of filling up and signing of attendance sheet by team leaders, verification by MHMS for completeness of the documents etc. requires time and for the a large ministry like MHMS, delay is expected but allowances will still be paid.
Furthermore, MHMS Senior Executive have continuously held dialogue with representatives of its workers associations including the Solomon Islands Nursing Association (SINA) on COVID-19 matters and those pertaining to COVID-19 allowances. In a recent meeting by the MHMS Senior Executive with SINA last week there was no mention or notification of a strike by the representatives of the association.
Therefore, issues raised with the media on delay in payments of COVID-19 allowances this week and the threat to go on strike was not from the SINA rather few disgruntled health workers who could have easily approached the senior executive for an update. SINA in an email to the MHMS Senior Executive also disassociates itself with the media report of a looming strike. As such, there will be no strike by public health nurses as reported.
Nevertheless, concerns of COVID-19 allowances raised by these groups of health workers have already been addressed and MHMS would like to inform all that their COVID-19 allowance claims including those of other COVID-19 health teams for the month of June and July have already been processed and submitted to the Ministry of Finance and Treasury (MoFT).
It must also be made clear that the leader of the Public Health Surveillance Unit (PHESU) that was attacked in the article is not responsible for payments of allowances. The unit is to ensure its functions in COVID-19 preparedness and response is implemented.
With this, it must be understood that from submission of allowance claim forms to actual deposits into bank accounts of health workers is a systematic process that involves a number of procedures, which includes verification, and scrutiny of the claims, endorsement from the MHMS Permanent Secretary to finance and pay roll department. Each of these departments have their own due diligence to fulfill which requires time let alone the number of claims submitted. Additionally the tight fiscal budget and financial pressures with MOFT to meet varying demands and obtain additional finances to address these claims amongst many others also takes time.
The article also highlighted lack of washroom facilities for decontamination of nurses upon returning from quarantine station when conducting daily health screening. MHMS has identified this as a gap and work to erect an ablution block for this purpose is already underway. The design is complete and will be shared with stakeholders for inputs before finalization and commencement of actual construction. This will be based within the MHMS head quarter close to the public health surveillance department.
In the meantime, public health surveillance team conducting daily health screening at the quarantine stations are being provided with protective gears such as face masks, surgical gloves, gowns and the necessary hygiene products such as hand sanitizers.
Issue raised relating to swab travelers at the NRH’s conference room is being addressed by the National Health Emergency Operation Centre and the National Referral Hospital Management.
On this note, MHMS would also like to inform of its very high regard and respect for its staff and the work that they are doing including engagements in COVID-19 health operations. Furthermore, the global pandemic is unprecedented, the preparedness and responses conducted so far are first of its kind, and thus a learning process for everyone, health included as we progress. Only through cooperation and continuous open dialogue and frank discussion instead of mudslinging in the media; we will overcome this pandemic successfully.