Nurses today pulled the rug from under a planned and widely-advertised June 1 start of the two, 24-hour polyclinics signalling to Government that they will not be bullied into accepting the new hours of work.
As a result the new system set to augment the emergency services of the Queen Elizabeth hospital has been postponed, as ministry officials try to negotiate with nurses on work hours and other concerns.
Today, there were early indications that the planned opening of the touted service would be in peril even before the doors were thrown open.
This afternoon, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) revealed that the nurses at the two polyclinics, Winston Scott Polyclinic and the David Thompson Health and Social Complex, earmarked for the pilot, are vehemently opposed to working on a shift system and they are not taking kindly to being compelled to do so.
The unions and the Ministry of Public Service will meet tomorrow, in hopes of thrashing out the issue.
In a late evening release issued by the Government Information Service, the Ministry of Health said the postponement followed a meeting today with the nurses’ representatives.
Describing the delay as ‘circumstances beyond its control” the ministry noted “At the meeting with the National Union of Public Workers, the Unity Workers’ Union and the Barbados Nurses’ Association, new issues were brought to the table which now required deliberation by all parties. A meeting to begin the process is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, June 1.
In an earlier interview, NUPW Acting General Secretary Delcia Burke said when the union last met with the health ministry on the subject of making the switch to a 24-hour facility, they were given the impression that the new operations will be staffed only by persons who volunteered. However, this afternoon the union was informed by its members that they were being threatened with dismissal if they refused to work within the 24-hour shift system.
“When this thing first came up, the Ministry of Health said that persons would be able to volunteer, they were not forcing anybody to work in the shift system. The reason that many of these nurses signed up for the polyclinics in the first place is because they are not opened at night. Many have children and families to deal with on evenings. So, they are now saying to people, who originally said on an option form that they can’t work at night, that they have to work the shifts,” said Burke.
She added, “It is also my understanding that the Ministry of Health has changed the hours of work for all of the staff at the polyclinics. I am talking about from the maids to doctors. The doctors are complaining that they are now being asked to come in at 7 a.m.”
However, the trade unionist issued a warning to Government which made it clear that the NUPW would not be sitting on their hands in the face of such threats.
“Some of them have been threatened with dismissal and some have been threatened that they would be transferred to other institutions. But we are telling our members, once they have not signed on to the new system, work their normal 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift. I don’t think the Government would be so foolish to follow through with these threats. I think that has to be an idle threat and they know very well that is a threat that they cannot carry out. They know that they would be only making the situation worse because the nurses are already complaining that they are working under some horrible conditions,” she stressed.
In its release, the ministry noted that it is the Government’s policy to introduce the 24-hour system throughout the entire healthcare sector and steps are being taken to work with all parties concerned to achieve this objective.
Meanwhile, there will be no Fast Track Service at the Winston Scott Polyclinic tomorrow. Both clinics will open as scheduled on Monday, June 3, at 8:30 a.m., for the provision of regular polyclinic services to the public.
Earlier this week, the Minister of Health announced that security at two polyclinics offering round-the-clock care is being beefed up as they open all hours from Saturday. Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Kenneth George said security guards, CCTV surveillance cameras and panic buttons are now in place at the clinics.
There are also to be secured areas accessible only by medical staff, and a system is already in place at the Winston Scott Polyclinic where security guards check visitors at the entry for weapons, using wands, Dr George added.
Burke questioned how Government plans to implement a 24-hour service when they don’t even have enough staff for normal work hours.
“They need to say that this is a good idea but that they cannot start at this moment. You cannot force anybody to run any 24-hour facility. If they continue like this, these nurses are going to follow their colleagues and take up employment overseas and add to the already existing shortage of nurses,” she lamented.