The Unity Workers’ Union (UWU) is claiming that student nurses are filling in for dozens of healthcare workers who continue their strike action over outstanding grievances, potentially putting patients at risk.
During a press conference on Tuesday at the union’s Belleville, St Michael headquarters, chairman of the UWU Nurses Division Gillian Dowrich said that unlicensed nurses were filling the gap at polyclinics and other state-owned healthcare institutions where the absence of the certified practitioners is being felt.
Barbados TODAY reached out to Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Kenneth George to address the claim but he would only say that the issue was engaging the attention of the Ministry of Health and he could not comment any further.
Dowrich told members of the media that the student nurses were being used in practice because “we are not there”. The nurse of almost 20 years charged that having the student nurses working at the institutions with inadequate supervision and mentorship puts the public at risk.
“Nurses are dealing with life, we are not dealing with dollies,” Dowrich contended. “So, at the end of the day, putting on a blood pressure cuff you have to know the right size, you have to know the science behind it because all of our practice is evidence based. So, therefore, we just can’t go and put on a blood pressure cuff. You as the mentor then have to explain that to the student nurse, letting them know ‘well this is how you measure it, this is why you would select this cuff’.”
Meanwhile, Dowrich said the frustrated nurses who have been on strike for eight weeks are requesting a meeting with Director General, Human Resources Ministry of the Public Service, Gail Atkins to discuss solutions to longstanding issues that have led to the industrial action, including increased pay, health insurance, improved nurse-to-patient ratios, remuneration for degrees, and continuous training.
She said while the striking nurses expect that incoming Minister of Health Ian Gooding-Edghill will have a role to play in the ongoing matter, it is Atkins’ responsibility to address the grievances of those employed in the civil service.
“We are waiting to hear from Gail Atkins…. This is not about politics. Yes, we welcome Mr Ian Gooding-Edghill as our new elected boss but right now somebody needs to come and speak to the nurses because we need to get back to work to deal with our patients,” Dowrich said.
Adamant that the nurses were not only striking for their benefit but also for better healthcare for the public, the veteran nurse said members of her profession were tired and fed up with the way they were being treated.
She said a speedy resolution was needed to bring an end to the industrial action which also included nurses marching in Bridgetown on two occasions this month.
Following weeks of strike action, on December 20, then Minister of Health Lt Col Jeffrey Bostic reported that he had met with the Barbados Nurses Association (BNA) and several agreements were made to resolve outstanding issues affecting members of the profession.
He announced at that time that an agreement was reached in principle but details were to be worked out regarding the provision of transportation for nurses working in rural areas and at the Geriatric Hospital during unsociable hours. Bostic also said that there would be a comprehensive review on uniform and general allowances and the laundry service.
He had also indicated that an efficiency committee will be established by December 31, 2021 with responsibility for procurement of supplies across the healthcare sector, and also announced that a committee will be set up to deal with late and sporadic payments in the civil service, while arrangements were being put in place for payment for flexi-time.
But during Tuesday’s press conference, Dowrich, First Vice Chairman of the Nurses Division Shelly Griffith, and Second Vice President Marsha Gill, said nurses had lost confidence in the BNA which they said could not speak for all of them.
They said that as far as they were aware, none of the promises made last December have been fulfilled.
Griffith complained that while the UWU nurses were involved in the strike action, they were not allowed to sit at the negotiation table when the arrangements were being made.
“So, the fact that the nurses have lost confidence in the Barbados Nurses Association clearly shows that we cannot take their word. And based on past experiences and the undervalued and underfunding of nursing, and that the BNA sat and did little about it and showed no interest in pushing for what the nurses need, you cannot sit and say ‘well yes, we will trust that’.
“We need to know what happened at the negotiation table; we need to understand it. For too long, the BNA has often decided they are going to go and they are going to negotiate and they will keep it among their executive or the few members that they have, but yet you are going to say that you are going to come on national television and speak for all the nurses,” Griffith said.
She added that nurses also no longer have confidence in the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
Meanwhile, UWU General Secretary Caswell Franklyn, who noted that he was taking instructions from the nurses on the way forward, said while he would be willing to attend a meeting with government officials, the nurses he represents would have to be present.
Franklyn noted that he expected Minister Gooding-Edghill, who was announced in Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s Cabinet on Monday, to first meet with his Permanent Secretary and other Ministry of Health officials.
The union leader said given the increasing cases of COVID-19, the meeting should be held soon so nurses could get back to work.
Dowrich added that the Nurses Division of the UWU was hoping to have a response to their request by Friday, January 28 and will be meeting with the almost 200 nurses that are members of the union on Sunday, January 30, to discuss whether there was a need to escalate the strike action. [email protected]