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Dear Editor: Idi is right, T&T must do more to support overworked nurses in this perilous time

“[…] What many forget, what the mainstream media does not highlight, what the ‘jacket and tie’ crowd in the media briefings does not mention is this: that these front-line workers, exposed daily to the virus, leave to go home to their families exhausted after double-shifts sometimes.

“Let us remember the level of trauma they are experiencing constantly…”

The following guest column from Rae Samuel of the National Workers Union (NWU) supports Trinidad and Tobago Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) head Idi Stuart’s call for more support for local nurses, as they grapple with the Covid-19 virus:

Photo: Idi Stuart (centre, blue jersey) leads a TTRNA demonstration in June 2020.
(via TTRNA)

As the Covid crisis deepens and uncertainty lingers and fears remain, workers and the wider national community must stand behind Idi Stuart, head of Trinidad and Tobago Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA). 

In his latest virtual media interview on 6 May, Stuart brought a clarity and a context to the issue that the long running Government media briefings lack.

While Covid-19 has emerged only in the last 15 months, its impact could have been mitigated if certain operational structures and working conditions were in place. For almost two years now, Stuart has been leading the health sector in a struggle for regularisation of the professional set-up.

We in the National Workers Union (NWU have followed his ongoing calls to the Ministry of Health for consultation about the staffing and operations of the Nursing Council, the body that oversees professional matters.

Health personnel have since 2019 protested in Port of Spain, Mount Hope, Sangre Grande, Point Fortin and Tobago. They have been warning about poor administrative practices, lack of meaningful consultations, horrible industrial relations and a lack of resources.

Photo: Trinidad nurses protest for improved conditions.
(via TTRN)

According to 2016 official statistics, there were at least 650 vacancies to be filled in the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA); and in the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) there were 3,413 vacancies—992 of them being nursing vacancies. At the San Fernando General Hospital, the nurse to patient ratio was close to one nurse to 22 patients.

Stuart pointed out in the TV6 interview that for two years now student nurses have not been paid stipends.

“They are working students,” he said.

Two classes have not moved forward. This means that the critical staff shortages normally faced have truly exacerbated the Covid crisis. Were they available, he pointed out, they could have helped with the ‘backroom work’, which is testing and other preliminary work.

As the cases mount, Port of Spain General is becoming a ‘tent city’.

Industrial relations in the regional corporations are notorious. Given that this is a sector that requires trained professionals charged with the nation’s health care, one would imagine that they would be given the highest considerations re: terms and conditions of service. The opposite prevails with short term contracts being the norm.

Photo: Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh (centre) poses with health workers at the Freeport Health Centre.
(via MoH)

With that type of instability being standard, it comes as no surprise that many of our health care personnel migrate.

“If you are offered a 3000 pound signing bonus why would you stay here?” he asked. “That is just the bonus! The salaries would be better than anything on offer.” 

It is well known that our health professionals are forever scouted by agencies and institutions abroad. TV6 routinely interviews a Trinbagonian nurse who holds a senior position in a Saudi Arabian hospital.

What many forget, what the mainstream media does not highlight, what the ‘jacket and tie’ crowd in the media briefings does not mention is this: that these front-line workers, exposed daily to the virus, leave to go home to their families exhausted after double-shifts sometimes.

Let us remember the level of trauma they are experiencing constantly. Like everyone else, they face the domestic challenges Covid has brought on. As if to remind us how inhumane the administration can be, he told of a nurse who underwent major surgery and had her salary stopped while in hospital. 

Photo: A nurse administers the Covid-19 vaccine.
(via MoH

What we do not want—if it is not already happening—is that the medical personnel have to choose who is going to treated and who is going to be left to die because of lack of resources.

The host asked if comparing our scenario to what is going on in India and Brazil might be stretching it. He showed that analyses are made relative to cases and size of population, that is deaths/cases per thousand. (One recalls around this time last year when rubbish was being put out that we were in the top 10 in the world, according to Oxford University.)

Stuart went so far as to call for Cuban nurses to be brought back to Trinidad and Tobago.

“Yes they are better paid than local staff but we have to address the crisis,” he said.

TTNRA is giving the story behind the multiple media briefings, regular sound bites and photo ops of ‘jabs’. Covid is not going away soon and it is the health personnel on the front-line who find themselves under-resourced, ill-equipped, and asked to go the extra perilous mile without access to the splendid isolation/quarantine that heads of government and business instantly enjoy.

We must give our constant support. Our lives are/may soon be literally in their overworked hands.

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