President of the TT Registered Nurses Association Idi Stuart is expressing concern at reports of a lack of proper and sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses in several regional health authorities (RHAs).
He is calling for a meeting between the association, Government and the RHAs to address those concerns before he advises members to withdraw from the job.
Stuart said despite assurances from the Ministry of Health and the RHAs, nurses on the ground have been consistently calling the association to say they did not have the necessary PPE in their units. He said such reports had been received from the South-West, Tobago and North Central RHAs, but the association was not able to allay the fears of the nurses, because it had not heard from the ministry or the RHAs.
He said the association would be abiding by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendations.
“The WHO says if health workers feel they are exposed to hazards and are placing themselves at high risk for infections, then they have the choice to refrain from working in those environments, and the employer cannot treat them any differently, they cannot penalise them if the necessary OSH recommendations are not adhered to. If there’s no PPE for them to treat with suspected cases, as there are no confirmed cases currently, they have full authority to refuse to be placed in dangerous situations.
"The International Labour Organisation, who is dealing with medical personnel on the frontline of the coronavirus worldwide, also says that if the necessary government and private employers fail to take the necessary steps to protect workers’ occupational safety and health, they too can remove themselves from the environment.”
Stuart said he was calling on government to provide PPE and training He said specialised training was needed, separate from that provided for previous illnesses.
“Specific training and continuous updates need to be given to staff on a repeating basis. There should be weekly updates given to staff.Let them know this is the latest with the disease, this is the latest safeguards you need to protect yourself, etc.
" Unfortunately, that has not been forthcoming, so we are advising our nursing personnel throughout TT: do not place yourself at unnecessary risk if the government is refusing to provide you with the necessary resources.”
Stuart also pointed out what he said wa a lack of isolation rooms in some facilities. He said there should be an isolation room in every accident and emergency department where people with the symptoms of the suspected virus should be treated instead of being in the open.
During Thursday’s post-Cabinet media briefing, Chief Medical Officer Dr Rosham Parasram said the response in terms of training and PPE for the coronavirus is almost the same as the training for influenza. He said retraining for responding to influenza happens every year, at the beginning of the flu season in October, and that has been ramped up to deal with the coronavirus.
“We are ensuring we have the necessary PPE to deal with any cases that may arise. The frontline staff, the ones in the emergency departments, the primary care staff, as well as the ICU and HDU staff are the primary staff that have been retrained thus far, and those are the critical staff that need to be trained in the health sector.”
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the protocols being used had been in use for years in response to other diseases, and had been streamlined and made particular to the coronavirus, including a heightened response and specific training.