Bengaluru's National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) is facing a huge nursing staff crunch, which may even increase the risk of infections for patients.
The existing nursing staff held snap protests on two days (Monday and Tuesday) when the institute decided to launch a new unit without adding any nursing staff. The nursing department is already understaffed.
Speaking to TNM, a nurse who wished to remain anonymous said that the institute should have a total of 1278 nurses according to Staff Inspection Unit norms. The nurse-to-patient ratio is calculated on SIU norms. According to the nurse, NIMHANS has only 440 nurses on its rolls.
“There should be a 1:4 patient-to-nurse ratio in the general ward, which is the standard norm mandated by the central government. In NIMHANS’s general ward the ratio is 1:40, in the psychiatric ward it is 1:60 and in the neuro centre it is 1:20,” she told TNM.
A comparative analysis of bed-to-staff ratio at other central government institutes shows that their condition is far better than that of NIMHANS. While the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi and the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry have a bed to nurse ratio of 1:1.12 and 1:0.98 respectively, the same for NIMHANS is 1:0.42. Due to the staff shortage, NIMHANS nurses are often denied their leave even on health grounds.
The nurse at NIMHANS also added that a staff crunch is not only overburdening the existing nurses but is also affecting patient care.
“Cases of infections are increasing as housekeeping staff are aiding doctors during surgical procedures and handing them sterilised equipment. Instead of three nurses being present during operations, there is only one nurse helping the doctors,” she added.
The shortage is impacting even the emergency ward, where a shift is often stretched to 12 hours, and each nurse has to attend 100 patients during that time period. Due to the staff shortage, nurses also work overtime for an average of 48 hours every month.
In a statement on Thursday, the nurses said that the flash strike was held as the previous protest did not elicit a response from the authorities in the right direction.
“The attempt to fill the gap by recruiting staff on a contractual basis is creating an additional burden of training new staff, and they leave the institute after the contract period. The roles and responsibilities of those trainees are not clearly spelt out and their accountability is still questionable,” the statement said.
The nurses' statement also said that previous correspondence with the administration was also not looked into, and that the institute had not recruited any nursing staff in the last two-and-a-half years.
“If the administration and the director worried about patients sufferings, they could have solved it earlier,” the statement added.
The statement also highlighted how other central government hospitals were recruiting nursing staff. RTI replies showed that AIIMS New Delhi hired a total of 1400 nurses in the last three years while AIIMS Bhubaneswar, which has the same number of beds as NIMHANS, has issued a notification to hire more than 800 nurses.
Expressing their disappointment with the institute director’s statement about pursuing the Union Ministry of Health to hire 195 nurses, the nurses questioned how they reached that number when the actual vacancy is of 838 nurses.
In an earlier statement, the nurses also said that during the last eight years, only 125 nurses had been recruited.