Two nurses were arrested in Delhi as hospital services in the national capital and other cities continued to suffer on the second day of the nationwide indefinite strike by nurses on Saturday, even as the Centre and the nursing federation held talks to seek a way out of the crisis. The national capital seems to have been hit the hardest by the stir as patients suffered in the absence of adequate staff at hospitals, which are managing with contractual nurses and interns.
The strike has been called by the All India Government Nurses Federation (AIGNF) and supported by the Delhi Nurses Federation seeking redressal of issues related to pay and allowances. “We are having talks with the government at the moment. Members of the nursing federations are currently discussing the issue with the Joint Secretary at Nirman Bhawan, after talks with the nursing advisor earlier in the day,” said AIGNF spokesperson Liladhar Ramchandani. Soon after the strike began yesterday, Delhi government had invoked the stringent ESMA declaring the stir as illegal.
Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Secretary K K Sharma held a meeting with Principal Secretary (Home), Commissioner of Police and Health Department officials to take stock of the situation. “The Chief Secretary was informed that two members of the nurses’ union have already been arrested,” Delhi government said in a statement, quoting a press release by the city’s Health Department. The agitation has come at a time when Delhi and several other cities are battling rising cases of dengue and chikungunya. Several routine operations in hospitals have been cancelled, scheduled surgeries postponed, OPD timings curtailed and emergency services affected too. During the meeting, medical superintends of hospitals reported that there is an increased rush of patients in fever clinics and the OPDs, on account of the upsurge in dengue and chikunguniya cases.
The city government in a statement said the Health Department has issued “public notice” asking striking staff to resume duty “immediately”. Sharma was also informed about the shortage of nursing staff at city hospitals. “Major hospitals are having only one-third of the staff strength. The situation has become critical on account of the strike,” it said.
Government hospitals in Delhi, including those run by the Centre, the city government or civic bodies employ about 20,000 nurses.
“The names of absentee nursing staff are being taken and FIRs would be lodged against them if they fail to report for duty. Action will be taken against them under ESMA which involves arrest and detention with the likely consequences of termination of services,” the statement said. Asked if the AIGNF would consider calling off the strike after the talks, Ramchandani said, “We are not willing to relent unless our demands our met. The talks do not look positive at the moment, but let us wait and see.”
The AIGNF has said that nurses would only attend to emergency and critical cases, and that too till Sunday. Besides Delhi, we are getting support from nurses in Chandigarh (PGIMER), Punjab and Rajasthan and Puducherry (JIPMER). The Centre on Friday, however, had claimed that only Maharashtra, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh were “partially affected” by the strike. “Medical services in the fever clinics and the OPDs are being managed only with contractual nursing staff. However, patient care in the wards is affected. And while emergency surgeries are being carried out with the aid of interns and student nurses, scheduled surgeries have been postponed,” Delhi government said in the statement.
Medical superintendents of all Delhi government hospitals would hold “walk-in interviews” for engaging nurses on daily wages “with effect from September 5”, it said. During the review meeting, Sharma was informed that Secretary (Health) visited major Delhi government hospitals accompanied by senior medical officers, to review the situation, the statement said.
Delhi government runs nearly 40 hospitals out of which LNJP Hospital is the biggest. Other major hospitals under it include GTB Hospital, DDU Hospital, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital and Chacha Nehru Child Hospital. The nurses federation claimed that services were affected at all these hospitals. Among centrally-run hospitals, Safdarjung Hospital which employs 1,100 nurses, including 160 on contract, too suffered on account of the stir. RML Hospital employs about 840 nurses of whom 236 are on contract, and the hospital is managing with contractual nursing staff and interns.
At least 487 cases of dengue have so far been reported in the national capital this season, with 368 of them being recorded last month. Eight deaths due to it have also been reported. At least 432 people have been diagnosed with chikungunya in Delhi so far. Till July 28, 9,990 suspected chikungunya cases were recorded in the country, with Karnataka reporting 7,591 cases. Also, over 15,000 cases of dengue have been reported across the country this year.