NEW DELHI—Nurses and paramedical staff who are treating people infected by the coronavirus are facing mental harassment by being forced to work overtime in hospitals, even as they deal with additional problems such as lack of transport and salary cuts when they take leaves.
Worryingly, even nurses and paramedical staff who are pregnant, lactating or immunocompromised are being forced to work.
These are just two of the 12 “most pressing issues” faced by healthcare workers, which include nurses and paramedical staff, according to an Intervention Application (IA) filed in the Supreme Court by the United Nurses Association (UNA).
“Current evidence suggests that the virus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted between people through close contact and droplets. People most at risk of acquiring the disease are those who are in contact with or care for patients with COVID-19. This inevitably places healthcare workers at high risk of infection,” notes the UNA’s application.
India is now fourth in the world in terms of confirmed Covid-19 cases, with the tally at over 330,000. As the country emerges from a long, hard lockdown, its public health system is straining at the seams, with Mumbai and Delhi particularly affected.
While patients and their caregivers suffer due to lack of information and facilities, overworked healthcare workers are struggling to cope with the surge in inflow, which is severely affecting their mental and physical health.
UNA’s application was filed with a request to intervene in an ongoing case in the Supreme Court regarding “mismanagement and sorry state” of government hospitals in Delhi as well as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.
The case was taken up by the SC itself on the basis of media reports, particularly one which showed “horrific scenes” at the LNJP hospital, which is dedicated to handling COVID-19 cases, in Delhi. The apex court then expanded its concerns to other states where the media has shown how local administrations failed to manage the fallout on public health of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The pathetic condition of the patients and improper care and treatment of the patients shown by the media has pained this court. The state on whom the duty lies to take care of health of its citizens cannot abdicate its responsibility of ensuring that all hospitals including government hospitals take care of the COVID 19 patients,” a three-judge bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice M R Shah noted in its order on Friday, June 12.
The court then asked the Narendra Modi government as well as the states of Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, as well as the LNJP hospital, to file affidavits explaining the ‘remedial measures’ they were addressing to take care of patients’ concerns.
It was in response to this that the United Nurses Association, which claims to have 3.8 lakh nurses as members, filed an intervention application arguing that addressing the concerns of healthcare workers are of “utmost importance” for the health system to respond better to peoples’ needs.
“The Health And Safety (physical/mental) of healthcare workers are of utmost importance because further shortage of healthcare workers would result in thousands of unattended COVID-19 patients, which will have serious repercussions including escalation of the present situation and resultant impact on the economy, medical facilities, potential deaths and loss of human resource,” argued UNA in its application.
The application also listed eleven specific measures that it wants the court to direct the Modi government as well as various state governments to implement in government hospitals across India to improve the working conditions of nurses and other healthcare staff.
These measures include availability of good quality and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, provision of nutritious meals, proper accommodation in close proximity to the hospitals, provision of adequate and prompt transport facilities, training in infection prevention and control and disposal of PPEs, payment of salaries on time and no deduction of salaries of the healthcare worker if they get infected by coronavirus on the job.
The Health And Safety (physical/mental) of healthcare workers are of utmost importance because further shortage of healthcare workers would result in thousands of unattended COVID-19 patients, which will have serious repercussionsUnited Nurses Association in its application
The application mentions that the association filed an application in the SC in April to redress grievances of healthcare workers involved in the treatment of people affected by coronavirus. At the time, the Modi government responded by providing helpline numbers for healthcare workers to place their grievances and get them resolved. However, despite registering several complaints, the resolution for them was not provided, the association says in the application.
The SC is scheduled to hear this case again on Wednesday.