Four pre-intern doctors have run to the High Court – Civil Division seeking permission to file a representative suit against the Ministry of Health and the Attorney General for refusing to deploy them. The petitioners are Judith Lukwago, Dr. Bill Adrati, Wyckliff Ainamatsiko, and David Mugyema.
The group argues that they share similar interests with thousands of others who have not taken their concerns to court. Due to the large number of individuals involved, about 1,364, it is impractical for all of them to file separate lawsuits. Therefore, they are requesting permission to represent the group as a few individuals.
In their intended lawsuit, the group, which includes medical doctors, nurses, midwives, and pharmacists, plans to challenge the Ministry of Health’s directive for them to self-sponsor their internships, as the Ministry claims it lacks the funds to cover their allowances.
They state, “We, as applicants, will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the represented class because we are fully aware of the risks and responsibilities of being named applicants and class representatives and have engaged qualified lawyers to assist us in the prosecution of the matter.”
The pre-intern doctors further explain that the allowances provided by the government help them cover expenses such as accommodation, meals, and transport to their assigned hospitals. Many of them come from impoverished backgrounds and cannot afford to bear these costs on their own.
According to the applicants, the failure to deploy them not only jeopardizes their right to employment, as they cannot obtain a medical practicing certificate without completing a full-year internship in a public hospital but also affects service delivery in hospitals, as they constitute 60% of the human resources in those facilities.
Through their legal representatives at Mugarula, Kwarisiima Company Advocates, the pre-intern doctors also accuse the Ministry of Health of violating their right to further education and obtain higher qualifications in their respective medical fields, as the internship is a prerequisite for educational advancement.
In their petition, the group states that they will seek court orders directing the Ministry of Health and the government to deploy them as soon as possible to mitigate the labor crisis faced by Kawolo and Mbarara Hospitals. The Ministry of Health and the Attorney General, listed as respondents, is yet to respond to the application for a representative suit from the student doctors. The court hearing for the matter has not been scheduled.
Medical interns are entitled to a monthly allowance of 2.5 million Shillings, which is intended to cover accommodation and meals. However, last week, Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, requested that pre-interns who can afford to begin paying for their training, with reimbursement depending on the availability of funds from the Ministry of Finance.
The decision did not sit well with some pre-interns, leading to demonstrations and clashes with the police. It has also faced criticism from the wider public, who argue that it will lead to the extortion of patients, whom the doctors have to care for.
In April 2023, the pre-medical interns petitioned the Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, over the delayed commencement of medical internships for the year 2023/2024. In their petition, they also raised concerns about budget cuts in the funds allocated to their line ministry, which they claim have greatly affected their welfare.