For the last five days, representatives of the AIIMS Nurses’ Union have been holding a silent sit-in protest at JLN auditorium on campus and their top demand is “implementation of uniform four-hour duty with PPE in Covid-19 areas”.
Fameer CK, union general secretary, told The Indian Express that they have written to the Union Health Minister about their demands. S K Panda, deputy director of administration, AIIMS, said a meeting was held with the union Thursday and most of their demands were “resolved” except that of reduced work hours in PPE.
Panda said, “Across the world, there is a pandemic and a time will come even in Delhi when we will have to work even more as patient load will increase. This is not the time to talk about reducing work hours. This would need additional manpower, and there is no way of recruiting at such short notice. If we reduce work hours in Covid-19 area, more people will be pulled in to work in the area.”
He added that the union has been offered an alternative — a break in the middle of an eight-hour shift to rest, eat and drink water, and then wear a fresh PPE and return to duty. Fameer said the Union is “not convinced by this offer” as the current six-hour shift translates into an eight-hour one as it includes donning and doffing (removing) the PPE.
Fameer claimed wearing the PPE kit for long hours has led to UTIs, pus, rashes and weight loss among several nurses: “The PPE is a plastic cover, nothing can get in or out. It traps sweat and is crucial for our safety, but we are falling sick due to prolonged hours.”
A nursing officer at AIIMS claimed that within three hours of wearing the PPE, some faint, others feel light-headed: “One hour before we don it, we stop eating and drinking… we wear it for at least four hours. After duty, doffing the PPE also takes time. We are dehydrated, swimming in our sweat for at least six hours.”
Taking a cue from AIIMS, the Nurses’ Union at the Centre-run RML Hospital too held a protest at 11 am Friday outside the medical superintendent’s office demanding “a separate counter and queue for staffers to get tested for the virus at the hospital”.
RML Nurses Union secretary Santha Sivarajan said, “Many staffers are testing positive but there is no separate counter or queue for us for the test inside the hospital…” RML medical superintendent Minakshi Bharadwaj said she met the nurses’ union Friday and told them that a “separate counter for RML staffers will be ready by Saturday and the rest of the issues will be looked into”.
AIIMS nurses also sought a proper donning -doffing area as healthcare staff are being made to “doff PPE in congested cubicles, making them more prone to Covid-19”. Panda said, “There are specific areas but now cases are increasing… We discuss this regularly, and work around it daily.”
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