The exhaustion of 10 days’ work inside a COVID-19 ward as a frontline medical staff was evident in Vivek’s (name changed) voice, a 31-year-old nurse from Kerala. Vivek, who works in Delhi's Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP) Hospital— an important COVID-19 care centre in Delhi— has to be on duty for four more days, before he confines himself to home quarantine for the next two weeks. Even as his first round of COVID-19 duty is about to come to an end, Vivek is in no mood to heave a sigh of relief. It is not the fear of contracting the deadly disease that scares Vivek the most; it is the apathy shown towards nurses by the hospital administration.
“They don’t really care. It is as if we are left to die in the end. From pushing us to work without proper protective gear to even the lapse shown in arranging adequate food and accommodation for us. Ever since the lockdown started, we have been on the receiving end,” Vivek tells TNM as he finishes duty on Sunday.
Like Vivek, for hundreds of nurses working across various hospitals in Delhi— including many from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka— it has been a two-pronged fight. Apart from the inevitable struggle against the pandemic, they have been fighting for basic necessities, either with the hospital administration or the Delhi government.
From transportation facilities to accommodation and food, nurses, who are among the frontline warriors against COVID-19, have been left in the lurch. Forced to rely on themselves, nurses have had to knock on the doors of doctors and management, and suffer penalisation for raising their voice on multiple occasions.
Two days ago, a nursing staff at the LNJP Hospital fainted while on COVID-19 duty. According to other staff at the hospital, she hasn’t been getting regular meals. But this is not an isolated incident. On Friday, a group of nurses at the Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital in Delhi posted a video on social media showing the poor quality of food provided to them.
“This is what they have given us,” said a nurse showing a packet of food with dal and rice. “We are the nurses of GTB Hospital. Today for lunch also they gave us this, it was taken completely out of the freezer. We couldn’t even eat it, after repeating the same, they have still given us the same (sic).”
Incidences regarding issues related to Food on yesterday Night reported by Nurses from GTB hospital Delhi.kindly stop this discrimination and requesting the Authorities to consider us as Humans. @ArvindKejriwal @SatyendarJain @RahulGandhi @ShashiTharoor pic.twitter.com/qRzJtPaFMW— vipin krishnan (@chanduksu) April 18, 2020
Talking to TNM, Shani T Mathew, another nurse at GTB, who is now in quarantine after his first round of duty, says that the issue was resolved only after the video was put on social media.
Disparity to nurses
In a shocking allegation, nurses also complain that there is disparity in providing safety gear.
“For many days now, we have been offered faulty Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits. Most of the PPE kits that are provided for nurses do not have goggles and face shields. We were even asked to re-use the goggles,” says Vivek of LNJP Hospital.
He adds that everytime nurses refuse to begin duty owing to lack of safety gear, only then does the hospital administration provide them with equipment. “We also came to know that the doctors were being provided with all of the safety gear. But for us, only when we raise our voices would they replace faulty PPE kits,” says Vivek.
Meanwhile Shani adds that at GTB, medical staff who are treating non-COVID-19 patients in the hospital, which also treats patients positive for the disease, are not even provided N95 masks.
“In our hospital, COVID-19 treatment is done in a separate block. But in other blocks, there are non-COVID-19 patients. There were incidents of these non-COVID-19 patients testing positive for the disease. None of the medical staff who treat them have been using N95 masks. They were all exposed to these patients and were later taken to home quarantine,” he says.
Meanwhile, Vipin Krishnan, a nurse at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) and former officer bearer of the nurses union at the hospital, says that he gets calls from nurses across the national capital, narrating their harrowing condition.
“There is a gross discrimination. In one of the calls I got, nursing staff were saying that around 20 to 30 nurses of LNJP Hospital were quarantined with a single bathroom facility, while doctors in that same hospital were accommodated in five-star hotels in Delhi,” says Vipin.
Meanwhile, reacting to the allegations, Medical Superintendent of the hospital, Dr JC Passey, told ANI that there is no discrimination among the hospital staff.
“All healthcare workers are treated equally. We're providing food to our healthcare workers from a five-star facility. As far as PPEs and masks are concerned, there's no shortage at all,” he said.
There's no discrimination among hospital staff. All healthcare workers are treated equally. We're providing food to our healthcare workers from 5-star facility. As far as PPEs&masks are concerned, there's no shortage at all: Dr JC Passey, Medical Superintendent,Lok Nayak Hospital pic.twitter.com/ZmTMx8Ykrj— ANI (@ANI) April 19, 2020
Lapses in protocol
From accommodating patients to the working time allotted for nurses, medical staff also point out severe lapses.
“I work in the medical ward in this COVID-19 care hospital. People who have tested positive, negative and even suspected to have the disease are kept in the same ward. When I enquired, my colleagues in other wards were also saying this,” alleges Vivek.
He also alleges that shift timings are badly-managed.
“In a day, there are three shifts: a six-hour shift from morning to afternoon, another six-hour shift from afternoon to night and then the 12-hour-long night shift. Two people will be there in a ward per shift. What we do is, in case of morning and evening shift, one person will work three hours each. But when it comes to night, it has to be six hours straight and it is very difficult. So we requested to equally change the three shifts to eight hours each, so that a person can work for four hours equally, but this has not been heard,” says Vivek.