Underpaid, overburdened nursing staff struggles to cope with workload
Recent graduates have been recruited across the country to deal with the staff crunch amid the second Covid-19 wave that has overwhelmed the healthcare system
Siraj Ahmad, a nurse at a Covid hospital in Kashmir, has stopped going home after work as he fears he may end up infecting his immunocompromised father. He has rented a room near the hospital but does have the money to pay its rent. His father has been paying for his accommodation since he is yet to get his salary three months after he was recruited under the Centre’s National Health Mission scheme.
Ahmad said he has been working overtime and often for 30-hour non-stop. “The rent alone costs more than ₹5,000. ...There is even no risk allowance. I have to ask my father for the rent...even though I was promised ₹14,500 salary,” said Ahmad, who graduated last year.
Ahmad is not alone. Many like him are underpaid or not paid at all as recent graduates have been recruited across the country to deal with the staff crunch amid the second Covid-19 wave that has overwhelmed the healthcare system.
Lithiya Rejoice, who works at a Covid Centre in Kerala’s Thrissur and has recently graduated as a nurse after a four-year course, said they are paid regularly but not enough that they should get for the hectic work they do. She has been working eight hours daily for 10 days followed by a four-day break. Rejoice said they also do night shifts and are in Personal Protection Equipment for up to four hours daily.
“.... ₹550 is given to us for a day for working in Covid wards. ...Since most of us have to continuously work for 10 days...the government has at least given us free accommodation at a hostel nearby,” said Rejoice.
In Delhi, Rupam Upadhyay, who received her diploma in general nursing and midwifery, is slightly better off and gets ₹20,000 a month. Upadhyay that since she graduated in 2018, she has been working at a hospital in Punjabi Bagh. “Though we are paid 20,000...which might be a bit more than other states but the [work] load...30 patients alone at a time... such salary is very less,” said Upadhyay. “I work 12 hours a day and 12 hours at night on alternate dates all the while risking my life and those at my home. ₹20,000 for such work is very disrespectful for such service,” she said. She said there should be a reduction in work hours and an increase in salaries.
Also Read | 15 more patients die at Goa hospital; relatives blame disruption in oxygen supply
Karan, a nursing graduate from Noida’s Sharda University, said he did not consider applying for a nursing post in his native Jammu because of paltry salary. He said it is unfair for a nursing graduate, who has trained for four years, to be paid less than a two-year diploma holder in lab testing.
“Such disparity in salary is not acceptable,” he said. He added even a diploma holder in midwifery is paid the same as those who have bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Roy K George, President of the Indian Association of Trained Nurses, accused the government of being negligent by not filling the vacancies of nurses across the country. He added nurses already faced a high workload and Covid has multiplied it many times. “In Kerala, where I come from, even an unskilled migrant worker gets 1,000 rupees a day for the work with no risk to life. However, a Covid ward nurse is not paid more than ₹550. This is absolutely shameful.”
George added the situation for nurses across the country was depressing and 90 nurses have died of Covid since the pandemic began. He added these nurses were infected at hospitals.
“We have stopped updating the numbers of deaths on our website because it demotivates the healthcare staff and causes more emotional stress.”
Ranjan Sharma, president, Indian Medical Association, accused the government of treating the health care workers as a use and throw commodity. “Last time, the governments begged these professionals to lend their services. But when the first wave subsided, these people, who had put in everything to help the governments, were thrown out saying that it was too expensive to keep them,” said Sharma.
“There is definitely money for advertisements, lavish houses to be constructed for the government functionaries but they do not have money to pay medical staff dying of Covid every day. Hundreds of our doctors and nurses have succumbed. What has the government done for them?”
Sharma said Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh had long halted recruitment of the paramedic staff, leading to increased workload on medical workers. “...governments like Himachal are not even ready to pay ₹50 a day for the qualified medical staff on Covid duty?”
HT reached out to the Union health ministry for a comment, but there was no response despite repeated calls.