Health Minister Adoor Prakash announced on Thursday that an expert committee headed by former acting Chairman of the State Human Rights Commission S. Balaraman would be constituted to study the problems of nurses employed by private hospitals in the State.

Addressing a press conference here, the Minister said that nurses were being subjected to exploitation in many private hospitals. They were not getting salaries commensurate with their qualifications. Many were forced to do overtime without additional payment and were being denied benefits such as duty off and medical leave. They were not even getting treatment for job-related diseases contacted by them. Many were also being subjected to mental harassment.

Mr. Prakash noted that there were complaints that persons without required qualifications and registration with the Nurses and Midwives Council were being employed as nurses. This not only caused harm to the appointees but also jeopardised the safety of patients.

He said that the committee was being appointed to look into the extent of these social problems but also to recommend remedial measures including legislation. The committee would have the directors of Medical Education and Health Services, the Deputy Director of Nursing, Registrar of Nursing Council, Director of State Institute of Medical Education and Technology and Additional Director of Nursing Service as members.

Besides, three regional committees would function under the State level committee to conduct studies at the regional level. The State level committee would be asked to coordinate them and submit its report in three months covering topics such as the educational qualification of nurses, their registration status, job security, wages and service conditions and health and other problems faced by nurses.

Replying to questions, the Minister said that studies on the condition of service of paramedical staff too could be undertaken. As many nurses might be unwilling to testify before the committee for fear of reprisal from their employers, an online facility would be provided to file complaints and details anonymously.

Though a staff pattern had been specified by nursing council for hospitals, inspections were being conducted only in teaching hospitals.

Mr. Prakash said that the government had not received the report ascertaining the cause of the death of a child following administration of pentavalent vaccine at Vithura in Thiruvananthapuram district recently. Though 8176 children had been administered the vaccine on that day, there was only one case of death. Experts of Central government and the World Health Organisation had been asked to study the case.