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Doctors strike action possible

The Chairman of the Samoa Medical Council, Motuopua’a Dr. Aisoli Va'ai, has warned that strike action could be the last resort in a bid to give doctors working at the national hospital a salary increase.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Motuopua’a, a former Member of Parliament, reminded that doctors last went on strike in September 2005 over the same issue and while he does not want a repeat, he warns that it could happen.

“The Government has to realise that professions are different and the time to achievement qualifications is different between professions,” he said.

“We’re not asking for an additional $10,000 pay rise for doctors, that is not the intention, rather just a little raise and recognition.

“That is their salary with overtime. If you don’t work overtime, you make the same salary as a B.A. holder," he said.

The Chairman rubbished claims that some local doctors earn $170,000 per annum.

Motuopua’a said the Government was alerted to their concerns, but he is puzzled as to why nothing has happened yet.

“The doctors and the nurses are the backbone of the health care work with the assistance of the support services,” he said.

“And even the on-call doctors take their time to return to the hospital when they’re called in, they are overworked. They are overworked and tired and the pay is low. When you have that three as a combination, then you have disaster.

“When you are overworked, underpaid, and you’re tired, then you make mistakes.”

Motuopua’a said the gap between salaries of doctors working in Samoa and countries like New Zealand and Australia is enormous.

“Those countries recognise the duration of studies, standard of education and the examinations one must pass to enter medical school.

“Yet in Samoa, after school you return home with a doctor’s qualification, you receive the same salary as someone with a Bachelor for nursing, economics, politics, historian, and it’s sad.

“They don’t want their salaries to be paralleled with physicians overseas, but just a minimal raise. Upon return from medical school, one must undergo hands on training for two years, before you can actually issue a prescription," he added.

As a way forward, Motuopua’a recommended an additional $1,000 to a doctor’s starting salary which he said would go a long way for the local doctors.

“In New Zealand, my daughter makes close to NZ$100,000 (T$177,259) yet our doctor’s starting salary is $30,000. That is very low and some are still making the same salary yet they have been working for a long time.”

Motuopua’a revealed that a number of doctors resigned last year to go into private practice.

“Again the issue is mainly salaries. The majority of doctors have gone overseas or gone over to sit exams and remain in Australia and New Zealand as they end up working there,” he added.

He added that the issue of local doctors being paid low salaries and overworked goes back to the early days of Samoa's medical profession.

“We’re talking about the 70s. This was when doctors went overseas for medical courses and never returned to Samoa. It’s sad and that is why others turn to private practice," he said.

Motuopua’a said luckily there are Samoan doctors who are patriotic and can continue to work while underpaid.  

“And the doctors that have left Samoa, they’ve succeeded to become specialists on their own, medical consultants and medical professors.”

It was not possible to get a comment from the Ministry of Health yesterday.

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