The Vanuatu Medical and Dental Association (VMDA) says it is very concerned after receiving reports of health staff throughout the country not receiving any salaries since December last year.
With unpaid salaries, many staff have reportedly been forced to take leave, essentially cutting back services in hospitals throughout the country with direct compromise to patient care.
Despite the Ministry of Health’s reassurances that salaries were being processed, many nurses and doctors’ salaries reportedly remained unpaid for nearly two months.
This is not the first time that health staff have had to struggle for months without any pay.
“It seems we are often not the priority for the government’s budget, and our national budget ceiling has remained unchanged for over 5 years, despite new graduates joining the system,” Dr Basil Leodoro, VMDA Vice-President said.
This year, 18 medical graduates from Cuba, Fiji and China joined the Ministry of Health as interns but despite commencing work, they remain unpaid also.
“Health services are poorly managed from a HR and Finance point of view and that mismanagement affects doctors throughout the country,” says Dr Nelson Tangwha, VMDA President.
Several doctors in senior administration and clinical posts were also unpaid for nearly two months, putting into questions the priorities of the government.
“We have struggled to convince our staff to remain on duty and with school fees coming up, staff morale is very low,” said Dr Andy Ilo, VMDA Provincial member and Medical Superintendent of NPH.
Reports indicate that hospital services throughout the country have been affected as unpaid health staff refuse to go to work until their outstanding salaries are paid.
VMDA has acknowledged the role of health managers who are desperately trying to ensure that salaries are paid out, however, the VMDA President maintains there are reservations.
“As an Association, we are continually asking for better working conditions for Vanuatu doctors, but it seems that HR and Finance remain our biggest challenges in health and we hope that will improve with better budget planning and HR strengthening,” said Dr Leodoro.
VMDA says it has promoted doctors’ welfare and contributed to health service delivery since 2000, but says it is clear there is still a long way to go.
“We hope VMDA will lead the way, together with our nursing Association to improve our members’ welfare and ensure that the people of Vanuatu receive safe, timely and appropriate care,” the VMDA President said.
With the new government being negotiated, VMDA says it is hopeful that health workers issues will be permanently resolved through a consultation process and strengthening of the health services.
“Patient care is our utmost priority but we cannot maintain adequate health standards if we don’t look after our doctors and nurses,” Dr Tangwha said.