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Thursday, October 21, 2021

‘Burnt out’ frontliners rally against sudden change in PHCC work hours


PHCC announced changes in working hours across all its clinics, sparking backlash from doctors and other frontline workers.

Hundreds of essential workers have signed a petition demanding a review of a Primary Healthcare Corporation [PHCC] decision to change staff working hours, sources told Doha News.

The decision to amend the hours for medical staff came as a response to an audit carried out by the Ministry of Public Health which had reservations over the amount of overtime hours being claimed by PHCC clinics.

MoPH auditors claimed the PHCC management was claiming overtime for staff across its clinics that shouldn’t have been made, citing contractual obligations for medical workers to work 40 hour weeks, the source said.

More than 800 physicians signed the petition asking the corporation to reconsider the move given the already existing pressure on doctors and other staff members. 

“We want to continue to provide a first-class primary care service for our patients. However, we feel that these proposed working hours are the last nail in the coffin of an already exhausted, burnt out and demoralised workforce. We fear that the above issues are forcing many of us to reassess our situations,” the petition read.

“We do not feel that the change in working hours would have any positive impact on patient care but would rather be detrimental to patient care. We feel strongly that this would result in a huge negative impact on physician’s health, wellbeing, morale and stress,” it added.

The petition cited a survey involving 61 physicians that suggested 66% of doctors are considering resigning in the coming year if work circumstances continue to deteriorate.

However, the frustration is not just based on the extension of working hours, but rather a number of drawbacks.

“Persistent and ongoing changes to work and conditions, like reduction in allowances, holding off ticket encashments for unexplained reasons, suspension of annual leave twice during the pandemic, despite having sufficient clinical staff to manage the crisis,” the petition said, listing numerous concerns.

A staff member who requested anonymity said gas and electric payments were also dropped from QR 600 to QR 450.

The petition also made note of the potential impact on families.

“The long working hours will negatively affect their [staff members] capacity to tend for their families and their children, especially amidst the educational challenges imposed by the Covid pandemic,” it read.

Read also: Essential or non-essential? These services have gone virtual at PHCC clinics

The decision sparked backlash online with many accusing authorities of not appreciating the efforts of frontline healthcare workers despite their service throughout the pandemic.

“Australia issued a postage stamp to honour doctors and nurses for their efforts in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic,” one tweet read. “While in our countries, they did not even receive the appropriate appreciation that befits their position!”

Meanwhile, other doctors took to social media to protest the decision, saying it will directly affect their mental health and social obligations outside work.

“Don’t we already go through enough? Should we go through all those hardships and stay silent? There are some of us who sacrificed their health and well-being.  Our family is the last thing we have left..and I will not sacrifice them. I am a mother before I am a doctor,” another tweet read.  

Others questioned whether the amendment in working hours will ultimately increase their salaries like those of Hamad Medical Corporation staff, given the extra work.

“News confirms that the employees of medical centres will increase their working hours, just like Hamad Medical Corporation, effective from the beginning of next month, meaning equal work hours. Will the employees of the medical centres (doctors and nurses) be paid salaries on par with the employees of HMC? If not, this is unfair! Injustice is darkness,” the tweet said.

In a statement to Doha News, PHCC said the institution is grateful to its “frontline heroes” but said the change in circumstances is temporary.

“The last year has been the most challenging in modern history for healthcare workers locally and around the world. PHCC is incredibly grateful to its frontline heroes for sacrificing so much and working so hard to keep Qatar’s communities safe and healthy during these unprecedented times,” the statement read.

“As we embark on the biggest vaccination campaign ever to be rolled out in Qatar, we call for renewed teamwork and unity. For a short time, the extra effort will put pressure on our resources, just as it has elsewhere in the world. We sincerely value the feedback of our staff and will continue to address their concerns as we undertake a collective effort to defeat the virus,” it added.

PHCC workers said they have yet to receive any updates regarding the matter, including whether or not salaries will increase to match the extra working hours.

It is still unclear whether the institution has drawn up measures to address the physicians’ mental and physical health, or identify how or if they will be compensated.

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