As another International Nurses’ Day is celebrated on Sunday, it is worth considering that the previous 12 months have been momentous for the nursing fraternity in the private sector in the State. The emergence of organisations to highlight the problems faced by the nurses can be seen as a turning point in the healthcare sector of the State. However, can it be claimed that the community has arrived at a juncture in which it is ensured all reasonable benefits?

‘State insincere’

S. Balaraman, former acting chairman of the State Human Rights Commission, who headed an expert panel constituted by the State government, says he feels cheated. “The seven-member committee had made the best possible effort in identifying the problems faced by the nurses in the private sector. It had also put forth recommendations for improving their service conditions. However, the State government has diluted the recommendations. I am of the view that the government is insincere in ensuring the nurses’ rights and continues to facilitate the interests of private managements. I will not remain a mute spectator to such attempts.”

‘Just eyewash’

Mohammed Shihab, State general secretary of the Indian Nurses Association, is of the opinion that the salary package that was recently announced by the State government is nothing but eyewash. He said that while the S. Balaraman Committee had recommended a basic pay of Rs.12,900, the Industrial Relations Committee announced a basic pay of Rs.9,500 for the basic category of clinics having up to 20 beds. “However, many private institutions do not provide any other allowances and therefore, nurses have to be satisfied with the basic amount. In addition, while better pay structures have been announced for those employed in hospitals having greater capacity, several hospital managements have misled the authorities by claiming to possess less number of beds than what they actually have,” he says.

Deductions too

D. Surendranath, State president of the Indian Nurses Parents Association, says there have been instances in which certain hospitals have deducted significant amounts from the nurses’ remuneration during remittance to the employees’ bank accounts. “The amount is transferred after the nurse has signed a pay slip that states the salary that has been decided by the authorities. Most nurses refrain from raising an alarm owing to fear of consequences. The practice of collecting ‘non-refundable security deposits’ is rife in the sector,” he says.

New tactics

Mr. Shihab says various top private hospitals have resorted to new methods to bypass the hike in benefits declared by the government. “Certain managements have begun to appoint nurses, including those with long experience, in large numbers as trainees. These employees are paid a total salary of Rs.5,600 as the hospitals are not compelled to adhere to the stipulated pay structure.” He says various private hospitals continue to insist on signing bond papers prior to making appointments.

Dr. Surendranath alleges that private managements, in their efforts to maximise profits, recruit fewer nurses than required in their institutions. “While a nurse-patient ratio of 1:1 is recommended in intensive care units, many hospitals entrust nurses in the wings with as many as five patients. While the practice puts the lives of the patients at great risk, it also hampers the efficiency of the nurse. Patients are treated as mere commodities in such establishments. It must also not be forgotten that if doctors are the brains of the healthcare sector, the nursing community is its heart,” he says.

‘Lack of commitment’

Dr. Balaraman says that leaders in the State, irrespective of their political hues, do not possess the will-power and commitment to lead the nurses’ struggle for their rights. He, however, is of the firm belief that no force can suppress the ongoing movement that will succeed at all costs. He says he will dedicate himself to the cause and, if the need arises, hold a sit-in in front of the Secretariat to protest against the government apathy on the issue.

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