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EDITORIAL: NHIF should be flexible on clinical officers

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NHIF may wish to uphold high professional
NHIF may wish to uphold high professional standards in a sensitive area such as medicine, but it has to be reasonable in view of the reality on the ground. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya has rightly identified Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as one of the key pillars of the so-called Big Four agenda. The brainchild of President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Big Four agenda has correctly positioned access to healthcare as a driver of human development.

But lessons from elsewhere suggest that the country requires billions of shillings to successfully roll out a plan that will impact the population in the right way.

This must begin with efficient use of the scarce resources available. In short, we must, going forward, need to cut our suit according to our cloth even as we increase our spending on health.

That makes the latest health sector dispute between clinicians and the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) worth attention. NHIF has been rejecting prescriptions by the clinical officers despite the Health ministry’s intervention.

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The gist of the matter is that private insurers accept prescriptions for CT scans and X-rays from clinical officers but NHIF does not. For the record, most Kenyans have never seen a doctor and mostly depend on the clinicians for their basic health needs.

Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) says its members are being asked to register with the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board for patients seeing them to get NHIF services.

As a result, the officers have warned of a possible strike in 14 days, arguing that the Clinical Officers Council (COC) is their regulatory body.

NHIF may wish to uphold high professional standards in a sensitive area such as medicine, but it has to be reasonable in view of the reality on the ground.

There surely must be someone at NHIF who understands that clinical officers and nurses are the backbone of Kenya’s primary healthcare system, which serves the majority of the population.

This is the reason the Director of Medical Services has called on NHIF to accommodate the technicians as private insurers and hospitals have done.

True, the incorporation of the officers under the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board may raise standards in the sector but could as well lock out millions of Kenyans from accessing medical services.

Players in the sector must differentiate what should be done in the long run from short-term goals. For now, flexibility is what is needed to achieve universal health coverage and the clinicians must certainly be part of it.

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