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Delhi hospitals sound alarm, one goes to police as nurses strike, quit

Earlier this week, Primus Super Speciality Hospital lodged a complaint with the district authorities and police against its nurses, accusing them of “abandoning patients”.

Written by Astha Saxena , Somya Lakhani , Mahender Singh Manral | New Delhi | Updated: June 19, 2020 7:43:16 am
delhi coronavirus deaths, delhi covid 19 deaths, delhi coronavirus case, delhi covid death mismatch, indian express The nurses have been complaining of lack of essential PPEs, long and difficult working hours, and inadequate support from the authorities, amidst fear of contracting Covid-19. (File/Representational)

Alarm bells are ringing in private hospitals across Delhi over resignations by nurses, compounding the healthcare crisis at a time when the Capital is battling surging coronavirus numbers. The nurses have been complaining of lack of essential PPEs, long and difficult working hours, and inadequate support from the authorities, amidst fear of contracting Covid-19.

Earlier this week, Primus Super Speciality Hospital lodged a complaint with the district authorities and police against its nurses, accusing them of “abandoning patients”. On Thursday night, the nurses rejoined duty on a reassurance to meet their demands, particularly reduction of duty hours.

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Saroj Super Speciality Hospital, which has been declared a dedicated Covid facility, had 262 nurses before the lockdown started. The number is down to 60.

Dr D S Rana, chairman of board, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, which is also treating coronavirus patients, said, “Around 40 nurses employed with Sir Ganga Ram city hospital resigned when it became Covid-only. There were 110 nurses at the city hospital, and to meet the shortage, staff from the main hospital were brought in. Besides, many are under quarantine since they have been directly dealing with Covid patients. We are seeing how to fill the gap.”

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The 100-bed Delhi Heart and Lung Institute (DHLI) is managing with just 60% of its nurses. The smaller nursing homes told to keep beds for coronavirus patients are also struggling with depleted numbers.

The Delhi nursing council has 84,600 nurses registered with it. Almost 75% of them are employed in the private sector.

Earlier, the AIIMS nurses’ union too had gone on a strike over poor working conditions. The nine-day strike was called off after the administration agreed to most of their demands.

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The 154-bed Saroj hospital first saw problems early this month when the nursing staff went on a one-day strike demanding better salaries for being put on Covid-19 duty. On June 10, the Delhi government ordered the hospital to be turned into a coronavirus-only facility. Soon after, the nurses went on strike.

Dr P K Bharadwaj, chief executive director of the hospital, said, “Around 40 of our nurses have already resigned as their parents were worried for them. Many stopped coming during the lockdown due to the limited availability of public transportation. Last week, the nurses went on strike though some of them joined back after we promised a raise. As of now, we have 60 nurses.”

In its written complaint to the SDM (Chanakyapuri), with copies to SHO (Chanakyapuri) and SHO (Sarojini Nagar) on Tuesday, the medical superintendent of Primus hospital sought an FIR against the nursing staff for “abandoning patients and their duties with certain ulterior motive”, and for “not joining Covid-19 emergency duty”. The hospital said the nurses were demanding Rs 1,500 per day as Covid-19 allowance.

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The nursing homes in Delhi with more than 50 beds that have been told to reserve 20% of the same for Covid-19 patients say they are also finding it difficult to arrange staff, not just nursing but also housekeeping. “I have two nurses and two resident medical officers. The housekeeping staff has refused to work and there is no one to manage the linen. To keep my nursing home running, I am working as a sweeper and also the medical director. If this continues for long, I will have to shut down the facility,” said the owner of a 50-bed nursing home in outer Delhi.

Dr K K Sethi, Chairman of DHLI, which has a cardiology and pulmonology facility, said their staff quit over two phases. “Around 27% of the nurses stopped coming in March after their families raised concerns over Covid-19. The second phase came after the hospital was asked to reserve 20% of the beds for corona patients. Those who have stayed, we have to increase their salaries to gain their confidence.”

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The trust deficit between the government and private sector is adding to the problem, according to hospital administrations. “Our staff was not even given time to be trained to handle a pandemic like this. Most of the nurses are from other states and have no social security here. They were never made to feel secure,” says Dr Chandra Prakash, president of the Delhi Voluntary Hospital Forum that includes around 40 private hospitals.

Delhi has seen the death of two nurses, Ambika P K (46) and Rajamma Madhusoodhan (67), from Covid-19. More than 800 healthcare workers have tested positive.

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The biggest problem nurses face is extra work and the discomfort of long hours wearing PPEs, during which they cannot take any breaks, including to go to the toilet. Many have also complained of salary cuts.

In a letter to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal recently, the United Nurses Association, a country-wide network with 5.2 lakhs nurses, had complained of being given sub-standard PPEs and N95 masks. “The staff is worried for their lives. There are no quarantine facilities and many are leaving the city. Many private hospitals are also deducting salaries .We have written several times to both the governments, state and Centre, but there has been no reply,” UNA president Rince Joseph said.

A 28-year-old nurse told The Indian Express, “My parents have asked me to quit and focus on higher studies.”

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