Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32, Chandigarh. (Express Photo)
AT GOVERNMENT Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) Sector 32, patients in the emergency ward often fall off the thin trolleys being used as makeshift treatment beds and severely injure their heads, when left unattended. Since the hospital is severely short-staffed, especially when it comes to nurses and attendants, patients are unlikely to receive the individual attention and care that they need to survive, let alone completely recover. “That is why we actually encourage patients’ relatives to stay behind with the patients so that they can make sure the patients don’t fall off,” says Dabkesh Kumar, president of the Nursing Welfare Association (NWA) at GMCH 32, while pointing to a relative sleeping with his head perched on the corner of a patient’s trolley bed.
Though patients, often from extremely poor and destitute economic backgrounds keep piling up at the hospital regardless of the deteriorating conditions they are exposed to, the number of nursing staff at the hospital has only slipped. According to official sources from the hospital, in the last one year, more than 50 new nursing staff have resigned from the hospital, and a few more are in the process of handing in their resignation. The hospital has a sanctioned strength of 774 nursing staff, and to complete this strength, 178 vacancies were opened up in October of 2018. Only 97 nurses were ultimately hired and since then more than 50 have already resigned from their duties and shifted elsewhere.
“This is because we are all so overworked and underpaid here. We get paid at the Punjab Government pay scale, which is lesser than the central government pay scale that hospitals such as PGI receive. We should come under the ambit of the UT authorities here,” says Kumar. The NWA has issued many letters to the hospital authorities, the Punjab Health Department, Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher and most recently, on December 28, to the National Commission for Women, highlighting the difficulties faced by female staffers who are allegedly not able to avail child care leave due to acute shortage of staff.
According to guidelines under the Punjab Government, employees are allowed to claim child care leave (CCL) for up to two children until they are of eighteen years of age. Further, this leave can be availed only for at least fifteen days at a time and is issued up to three times a year. A total of 365 days of CCL can be claimed by female employees through the course of their employment. However, the government’s rules state that CCL cannot be availed as a right by employees. As a result, female nurses at the hospital allege that they do not receive leave at all.
“We have had nurses with young children appealing to the Nursing Superintendent, asking her for leave, but often we are so short-staffed so the nurses never get their leave. They feel so mentally harassed and don’t know what to do,” said a nursing sister, who fearing persecution, wished to remain anonymous. “One nurse was told why did you marry an army man if you wished to be a nurse. The insensitivity towards our employees is very demoralizing,” added the nursing sister.
The Nursing Superintendent of GMCH 32, who is the head of the nursing staff at the hospital, refused to comment on the matter.
According to Kumar, the root cause of all issues faced by the nursing staff can be ultimately traced back to the pay disparity. “Since the pay scales are much lower, and promotions are pending since ages, it is hard to retain staff, who go to more attractive institutions such as AIIMS or PGIMER. In turn, when staff strength is less, the pressure and workload on nurses is much higher, which leads to even more people leaving and fewer leaves for all, and the vicious cycle continues,” explained Kumar.
In one letter posted as a reply to the Nurses’ complaint, GMCH authorities stated that efforts were made to “fill up the 178 vacant posts of staff nurses” and more will be made soon. Beyond the nurses’ dissatisfaction with the vague reply, the NWA is convinced that even the sanctioned strength of the hospital is not enough. Using guidelines issued by the Indian Nursing Council (INC), the national regulatory body for nurses and nurse education, the NWA has asked for the sanctioned strength to be increased to 1400 nurses.
In GMCH, there is around 600 nursing staff attending to 1200 beds, excluding those who are compelled to share a bed with other patients due to infrastructure shortage. In comparison, PGIMER has over 2500 nursing staff for a total of 2000 beds, and AIIMS, New Delhi has 4500 nursing staff for about 2300 beds, according to data retrieved via an RTI by a GMCH official. To further exemplify the extent of the nurse shortage, the INC suggests that the nurse to patient ratio in the labor room be 1:1, but a nurse in charge of a labor room at the hospital alleged that two nurses were catering to an average of 60 patients at a time.
Though the Medical Superintendent refused to comment on the issue, the hospital spokesperson stated that the hospital has always attempted to fill vacant posts in a timely manner to provide an adequate number of staff.
“Yes, many nurses have resigned. They will naturally do so when better opportunities are offered, but there is no extra pressure on the nursing staff, they have only been asked to do their duty,” said the spokesperson.