A recent government order on redeployment of nursing staff in 1,171 primary health centres (PHCs) across the State has upset nurses working at these centres.

The order, issued on July 1, says that PHCs where less than 10 deliveries are conducted in a month could have only two staff nurses. Excess staff would be redeployed to ‘needy’ PHCs.

The decision is contrary to an earlier order, under which the government had sanctioned three nurses for each of the PHCs in the State. Officials said that it came about as new PHCs are being opened in various districts and there was a shortage of nurses.

The order also states that nurses would have to work 12 hours and would be paid Rs. 1,000 more for the four extra hours. The nurses are now on a consolidated monthly pay of Rs. 8,500 for eight-hour shifts.

“The redeployment has meant that these nurses have to travel long distances and sometimes work 14 to 16 hours,” said S. Ravi, vice president of Tamil Nadu Government Contract Nurses Welfare Association.

This has upset PHC nurses across the State who have been appealing to the government for months now, to reduce their work hours, as most of them now work 12-hour shifts

A nurse in Madurai district said she travelled two-and-a-half hours one way every day, after she had been redeployed. “I spend Rs. 80 a day just on bus fare,” she said. The situation is worse when a nurse gets pregnant and is redeployed. Some nurses in Madurai district said they had not received the additional Rs. 1,000 the government has promised.

Nurses working in Sankarankoil taluk said their salaries for four months had been delayed as the government had not allotted funds and they often had to work 14-hour shifts.

Women with young children find it tougher. A nurse with a 2-year-old toddler said she could cope with night shifts, but day shifts were difficult as her child went to an anganwadi. “We are entitled to one casual leave every month but we don’t take it as that would make it difficult for the other nurses,” she said.

According to the order, 677 of the 6,300 nurses on contractual posts will be redeployed but Mr. Ravi said the situation will worsen when their demand to regularise senior nurses is met.

“The government has agreed to regularise the jobs of 400 of these 6,300 nurses. When that happens there will be more vacancies,” he said.

The vacancies cannot be filled immediately as nurses from the private sector have gone to court demanding that they be allowed to work in the government sector. The case is still pending.

“The solution is to have permanent nurses in PHCs instead of hiring them on a contract-basis, as this would entail them to benefits even if they work overtime. The present health secretary has said he would recommend our case to the government and we are hoping for the best,” Mr. Ravi said.