Migrant nurses leaving Bengal for safety; private hospitals face manpower shortage

Two doctors, including a senior state health department official, have died of the disease in the state so far, while more than 160 doctors, nurses and hospital staff have been infected.
A nurse tends a patient in a hospital in Kolkata.(Samir Jana / Hindustan Times File Photo)
A nurse tends a patient in a hospital in Kolkata.(Samir Jana / Hindustan Times File Photo)
Updated on May 16, 2020 04:21 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Kolkata | ByTanmay Chatterjee | Posted by: Shankhyaneel Sarkar

Triggering a staff shortage at private hospitals in West Bengal where the Covid-19 pandemic is spiking, nurses from other states are leaving for home, citing risk of getting infected.

Of the 68 hospitals dedicated to treatment of Covid-19 patients in West Bengal, 52 are private institutions. Two doctors, including a senior state health department official, have died of the disease in the state so far, while more than 160 doctors, nurses and hospital staff have been infected.

As many as 185 nurses from Manipur alone left for home during the weekend, HT found from official documents. Hundreds more from Tripura, Odisha and Kerala are also preparing to leave.

HT accessed a document issued by the Manipur government on May 9, which include transit clearance for 185 nurses and 132 other Manipur citizens and travel permits for 31 buses and cars all of which are registered in West Bengal. The vehicles travelled through Assam and Nagaland. The documents were signed by Rehanuddin Choudhury, joint secretary (home), Manipur.

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Manipur chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh has said all Manipuris would be brought home. His government has arranged for trains and buses to carry patients, labourers and students.

Right now only a small number of non-Covid patients are admitted at hospitals and non-emergency procedures have been kept on hold. The scenario will drastically change once the lockdown is over, the authorities said.

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“Of the 600 nurses at our south Kolkata superspecialty hospital, more than 60 per cent, ie 360 nurses, are from other states. 70 of them from Manipur have already left. This is a serious situation,” said Dr Alok Roy, chairman of Medica, a group that has eight other hospitals, five of which are in Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and Assam.

At AMRI Hospitals - a well-known chain engaged in treating Covid-19 patients – at least 60 per cent of the 900 nurses at its three units in Kolkata hail from the North-East, Odisha, Kerala and Karnataka. Some from the North-East have already left while others have told the management that they will leave once the lockdown is over. Bengal’s first Covid-19 death took place at AMRI’s Salt Lake unit. The health department functionary also died here.

“Many nurses from Manipur have left. We are counselling nurses from Tripura and Odisha, asking them not to leave. We have asked our human resource departments to go on an aggressive recruitment drive in Kerala and Karnataka,” said Rupak Barua, CEO, AMRI Hospitals and chairman of the healthcare sub-committee of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), east zone. “Since the pandemic has had very little effect in the North-East, nurses from the region probably feel it is safer to be at home,” Barua added.

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Till Thursday, Tripura recorded only 154 cases and no deaths while Manipur had only three cases and no deaths. In comparison, Bengal registered 2377 cases and 151 deaths.

“Some nurses claimed that hospitals in their states have offered to pay Rs 1000 a day in addition to reimbursement of daily expenses. This should be a great offer as they will be paid more while getting to live with their families,” said an official at a private hospital in Kolkata. “While a few nurses from Tripura resigned, most simply left without saying a word,” he added.

“Shortage of nursing staff is a perennial problem in Bengal because there are not many training colleges. We hire people from the North-East, Odisha and Kerala. In recent years, Karnataka has been added to the list, as many training colleges have come up there,” said Barua.

On an average, no less than 60 per cent of the nurses employed at big private hospitals in Bengal come from other states.Since state government hospitals employ local residents only and absorb the bulk of the students graduating from nursing schools, private hospitals employ migrants in large numbers.

Apollo hospital said it did not face this situation till Thursday. “We have one thousand nurses and a sizeable chunk are from other states. However, only four nurses from Manipur have so far left,” said a spokesperson. Apollo’s East Zone CEO, Rana Dasgupta added that the hospital was “not facing any problem so far.”

The authorities at some private hospitals in Kolkata said that some nurses from Kerala - a large chunk of this migrant workforce- were also planning to leave, but Medica group chairman Alok Roy felt this may not happen, because nurses from Kerala had experienced more of the disease across the country, and were not likely to panic.

There is no centralised data on the number of migrant nurses working at private hospitals and clinics in Kolkata and rest of Bengal.

“There must be thousands of them and the figures keep fluctuating, as deployment depends on demand and supply. The nurses are taken on a 2-3 year contract,” said Dr Koushik Chaki, secretary, West Bengal Doctors’ Forum, a prominent body of physicians.

Dr Chaki said that frontline warriors were not getting personal protection equipment (PPE) in adequate quantity either. On Monday, the forum wrote its second letter in four days to chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, highlighting this issue.

On May 5, the 400-bed multi-specialty Peerless Hospital in south Kolkata shut down operations after a number of doctors, nurses, staff members and attendants contracted Covid-19 while treating patients. In April, Chernock Hospital in the eastern fringes of Kolkata had to be shut down for the same reason. Both hospitals employ migrant nurses.

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