The COVID-19 global pandemic has brought much death, pain, despair, uncertainty and like a thief in the night, robbed us all of the lives we know to be “normal”.
Conversely, it has forced humanity to pause, to stop, to reflect on those things that matter most in life. We have all slowed long enough to realise that there are some basic things we have taken for granted. There are some people and professions we have not been just or kind to over the years.
The recent national debate surrounding the nursing profession has tugged at the hearts of many, especially at a time like this. Nurses have a slew of grouses some of which pre-date the pandemic.
Head of the Unity Workers Union Caswell Franklyn has reported that many nurses are unhappy. The trade unionist told Barbados TODAY that some of the nurses who staged a sickout on Tuesday were ready to step up industrial action if there were not engaged by the Government.
The timing could not be more off to have unrest, unease and discontent among an “essential” profession. But this is where we are.
And while an official statement from the Barbados Nursing Association disassociated itself from the call for a sickout this week, it is clear that some nurses do not share that position.
Each of us knows or has heard of instances where critical healthcare had to be administered by a nurse. Sadly, the perennial issues that plague the Queen Elizabeth Hospital have sometimes taken away from the fact that we have, in this country, a cadre of qualified, competent and skilled nurses.
It is no secret that at both the polyclinics and the QEH nurses are the ones who do the brunt of the work as it relates to healthcare. They work long gruelling hours. They face some awful circumstances in the execution of their jobs. Yet, many of us seem content to say: “Well, that is the profession they chose.”
Why then should they have to fight for what they rightfully deserve in the middle of a pandemic? Why are there still complaints of shortages of equipment for them to carry out their tasks? Why must 191 of them seek counsel and guidance from Unity union in order to fight their cause?
Have we been taking care of the island’s caretakers? Have we done right by them? Have we taken their efforts, service and sacrifice for granted?
Of concern for us too is the treatment of police officers. Although we reported it on the back page of one of our daily editions, we are still to understand why in 2021 officers of the Black Rock station are operating from a container.
Both nurses and police officers are forced to operate in some of the most degrading conditions. It is no secret that many police stations across the island, including Central, are in a state of disrepair. Numerous police vehicles are parked due to mechanical and other issues.
No wonder then that Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith had launched an investigation into police response time to a gruesome murder which took place last July. Reports indicated then that when contacted one police station had “no vehicles available to report to the scene”. The end result was a second murder by the same offender.
Police officers are also often saddled with clerical work which hinders their ability to hit the streets and do the “real” police work. Sadly too, those who do hit the streets and respond are often fired upon by gun-wielding lawbreakers. On many occasions, they find themselves in harm’s way. But persons might show no concern for this with the attitude: “Well, that is the profession they chose.”
Then there was the recent quarantining of the entire Canine Unit. And it was only then that people began to realise the gigantic task that Unit plays daily. The Unit is primarily responsible for protecting the borders as the dogs are trained to detect drugs, guns and other contraband. The Unit also gives priceless support to investigations at scenes of crime. So if that entire unit had tested COVID-19 positive, the impact would have been colossal.
The pay in both professions leaves much to be desired given what they give to the country. Their pay scales should be dealt with in a different classification. They both put their lives on the line; one through violence; one by way of deadly health situations like the current one we are in.
Hazard pay should never be a one-off thing for police or nurses. It should be structured. There should have been an agreement in place for situations like a pandemic. Situations where the resources are more stretched than in normal times.
They should be getting adequate time to rest and recuperate given the rigours of their jobs. The State should be seeing after their mental and emotional needs with properly structured counselling, yoga, massages and other outlets for balance given what they encounter.
The harsh reality is that successive Barbados Labour Party and Democratic Labour Party administrations have done little to address the many challenges our nurses and police confront daily. Actually, some may put a solid argument and say they have added to the plight.
For far too long we have sat comfortably while these “loyal sons and daughters” of the soil give, give, give and get very little in return.
Ironically, it seems as though giving and serving are etched in their DNA. Because even with all the challenges and frustrations in the two professions retired nurses and police have answered the clarion call to come out at this time and help in the battle against COVID-19.
If that doesn’t cause someone somewhere to take notice; then what will?