A section of nurses on Wednesday began a protest across Maharashtra demanding permanent posting, more leaves and risk allowance while on Covid-19 duty. From September 1, more nurses are set to join in, though they will continue to work and wear black ribbons as a mark of protest.
At least 450 nurses across government hospitals have contracted Covid-19, and six of them have succumbed, data from the Maharashtra State Nurses Association showed.
The nurses are also demanding that they be allowed to undergo an adequate quarantine period. A month ago, the state government had changed duty hours for nurses posted in Covid-19 wards. From working seven days at one go, followed by seven days in quarantine, the public health department had last month asked nurses to report for work for five days and then take leave for two days.
Medical colleges have asked nurses to work for seven days at a stretch and then undergo a three-day quarantine.
“If we come in contact with an infected patient, we don’t get enough time to observe quarantine. We ourselves can become the carriers of the virus if we report to work after three days. PPE (personal protective equipment) kit and masks that we use are of poor quality,” said Sumitra Tote, a nurse in Latur Government Medical College.
New nurses are being recruited at a salary of Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 per month by the department. “Because of poor pay and contractual jobs, nurses are not willing to work in government hospitals. The ones left are overburdened. One nurse is managing 20 patients in the ICU here,” Tote said.
The Maharashtra State Nurses Association, United Nurses Association and Government Nurses Federation plan to protest from September 1 till 7 by wearing black ribbons so that Covid-19 patients are not affected by the strike. Nurses under the banner of Government Nurses Federation began the protest on Wednesday.
“On September 8, we will not report to work if our demands are not taken seriously,” said Arun Kadam, executive president of Maharashtra State Nurses Association.
Around 15,000 to 20,000 nurses are expected to join the protest. They have also demanded that the state government provides a risk allowance of Rs 7,200 per month as well as permanent postings to the contractual staff, and fill vacant posts.
T C Jibin, from United Nurses Association, said the demands have been long pending. “We have no option but to protest. Nurses have been demanding better pay and a safe working environment since the onset of the pandemic,” he added.
Dr Sadhana Tayade, Director of the Directorate of Health Services, said the decision to shorten the seven-day quarantine period was taken due to lack of nursing staff. “We have given advertisements for nursing posts, but we are not getting responses. We not only need to fill vacant posts but also require more nurses in rural areas. We had to reduce the quarantine period to accommodate whoever was available.”
She added that the process of converting contractual posts into permanent ones will take time.
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