Around 300 nurses who were working in Kolkata have gone back home to Manipur, saying they were compelled to work without pay or protective gear and that they were heckled.
According to the Health Department, around 6,500 nurses work in private hospitals in Kolkata and its suburbs. Eighty per cent of them — more than 5,000 — hail from other states. Approximately 500 nurses have now gone to their home states, including 300 from Manipur.
Martina (27), a resident of Thoubal district in Manipur, resigned and reached her state two days ago. She told The Indian Express over phone, “We came to Kolkata to work. But, after the pandemic, the situation changed. Our hospital was closed on April 13. After that we did not get salary. We were also heckled. Our apartment security guards and neighbours called us ‘corona’ or ‘Chinese’. We did not get food from the nearby shop. We informed the hospital authorities and local administration but got no help.”
She added that they did not have proper PPEs and safety protocol at work. “We are not demanding the moon, just basic safety and security and a conducive work environment,” she said.
Another nurse, a 29-year-old working in a state government-run hospital in North Kolkata, said, “Some of my friends have gone back to Manipur. Our families are very tense, and want us to return. We are doing our jobs. If you are repeatedly humiliated, how can you do your work?”
The organisation Manipuris in Kolkata (MIK) has raised these issues with Kolkata’s hospitals and administration. MIK president Kshetrimayum Shyamkesho Singh said, “There are several issues like security, social ostracism, low or no salary, food shortage during quarantine, working environment, personal safety and security, landlord and accommodation, mental health and depression. We sincerely hope that Manipuri nurses will get justice, their well-deserved respect and people acknowledge their invaluable contributions to the health services of West Bengal.”
Hospital administrations accepted that there were serious concerns regarding the state’s healthcare system. “We apprehend there will be a significant crisis, as more and more nurses are leaving the city for home. Since occupancy is low across all hospitals, we can manage now. But once planned surgeries restart, we will feel the pinch,” Rupak Barua, Group CEO, AMRI Hospitals, and vice-president of Association of Hospitals of Eastern India, said.
Another top official of a private hospital said, “There has always been shortage of nurses in West Bengal due to lack of nursing colleges, and this has led to a huge demand-supply gap. We have been more dependent on nurses from other states, particularly from Manipur, Tripura and other Northeastern states, along with Kerala.”
Facilities in Kolkata that are facing the crisis include Charnock Hospital, where 27 nurses resigned, followed by 25 in Peerless Hospital, 16 in Fortis Healthcare, 11 each in IRIS Multispeciality Hospital and Bhagirathi Neotia Woman and Child Care Centre, and 10 each in Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals and Sri Aurobindo Seva Kendra, sources said.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, “We will train locals for seven days to give saline, oxygen support or check temperature to help with the crisis. How will hospitals work if nurses are leaving?”
Barua said, “We want to ensure that our patients receive the necessary care during these difficult times. On behalf of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India, we have appealed to the Government of West Bengal for support to sort out this growing crisis. We will make the same appeal to governments of other states, from where most of our nurses come to work in private hospitals of Kolkata. We are making a similar appeal to the Nursing Council of India to urge nurses not to leave their posts now.”