Oman health: Medics in SOS plea over payment

Oman Sunday 26/June/2016 22:10 PM
By: Times News Service
Oman health: Medics in SOS plea over payment

Muscat: A worried group of Omani medical interns says the government has failed to pay them for the seventh consecutive month.
Marriages have been postponed, loan repayments are mounting up and day-to-day living has become a hand-to-mouth trial for 24 young medics toiling in government hospitals.
The Ministry of Health has failed to pay the interns since December 1 last year and now these young medics are reaching a breaking point.
With the Eid holiday looming, young trainees say they are not able to purchase even the basics and are reliant on friends and family for handouts.
This is the first time a group of government interns has not been paid for work. Legally, the interns cannot file a lawsuit, as they are not working under contracts.
Even during their periodic evaluations to be offered job contracts, no intern has yet to receive an offer of employment.
Dr Ahmed Al Risi, 25, a newly married intern who just graduated from a medical school in New Zealand, said that after seven years away from home and his family, it is sad to spend his first Eid in Oman, employed, but “without expectations”.
“Apart from the government’s payment, my family has been supporting me financially throughout my studying years. I don’t want to be a burden anymore,” Al Risi said, adding that despite his not being paid, he is not prepared to compromise on his work ethics or the quality of services he provides to patients.
At the same time, he is afraid that he will not be able to pursue his dream to become a neurosurgeon, as he cannot afford to apply to take the required international tests.
Since December 1 last year, 20 Sultan Qaboos University graduates began working at different public hospitals in the Sultanate of Oman.
Also, four medical students who graduated from universities outside Oman began work in January 2016.
Another intern, Dr Abdul Majeed Al Qutaiti, said that after three-month delay in payment, he sought an answer from the local authorities.
“Once a week, using our WhatsApp group, we send a medical intern to the authorities to follow-up on our case,” he said.
Al Qutaiti said he has only OMR10 left in his pocket.
“For months I couldn’t buy new things, not even a bottle of perfume, and some of my friends had to delay their weddings,” he said, adding that increased petrol prices only made life harder for him, as he drives 60km to the hospital.
“I feel ashamed to ask my parents for cash, so I borrow from my employed friends,” he admitted, adding that the common response he received from the Ministry of Health (MoH) was, “Keep working and we are following the case”, which, according to him, was first told to him last February.
Asked if the delay in payment affects his performance at work, he replied, “Of course it does, I get less sleep due to worrying. Such an attitude from the authorities kills our passion during a critical time, as I am just starting my career.
Some of my colleagues have considered working in different jobs,” he added. Medical interns work from 7:30am to 2:30pm on normal days.
But the doctors said they usually come home late due to the large workload, in addition to on-call shifts once a week.
Normally, each medical intern is paid about OMR1,100 per month.
More than OMR1.3 billion was allocated in the budget for the Ministry of Health in 2016.
Asked if he might leave the country to work elsewhere, he stressed that medical interns belong here and want to serve Oman. “But if all doors are closed, I may consider leaving”, Abdul Majeed Al Qutaiti said.
Another Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) graduate, Dr Asia Al Mamari,noted that during her university studies, she was privileged to receive free food and accommodation.
“Now, without a payment, my loans have exceeded OMR2,000,” she said, while explaining that she depends entirely upon help from family. Al Mamari added that she would not be able to take her Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination (MCCEE) due to money issues, and stressed that she is seeking an apology from the health ministry for the delay.
“My trust in government bodies has been shaken, as they refuse to support their own citizens,” she noted.
Dr Abdullah bin Saleh Al Abdali made it clear that “patients should not pay for MoH mistakes”. He said that if Oman does not want its own medical students, other countries “will be happy to host us”.
Social media activists in Oman have launched an Arabic hashtag, translated as “I’m in solidarity with doctors”.
Working hours
“Medical interns’ training requires long working hours, exhausting tasks and late night stays. In return, their rights were dismissed”, said Senior Dr Zakariya Al Muharmi of Sultan Qaboos University on Twitter, in support of his students.
“We have chosen a noble profession to serve mankind, but we ended up without receiving our salaries for more than six months”, India-graduate Dr Haifa Al Zadjali said, adding that her parents have borrowed money from banks to help her complete her MBBS degree, in the hope that she returns and repays the “outstanding loan”.
Al Zadjali said that it is “not possible to survive without income”.
“I earnestly urge that our case be addressed and I am asking for an immediate solution,” she added. The Times of Oman has sent letters to the Ministry of Health seeking its comment. When contacted, a Ministry of Health spokesman declined to comment.