SEAN DOUGL AS Thursda y, December 29 2016
NURSES continue to be under attack from patients at the nation’s hospitals, with no proper form of compensation for their injuries. This is the picture of the profession painted by TT Registered Nurses Association president, Idi Stewart, who vowed action in 2017 to highlight such cases. In one incident last month, a patient receiving emergency treatment bit the finger of the nurse who was treating her at the Accident and Emergency Unit of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mount Hope.
Stewart said the biting incident had never been reported in the media.
“It was not a psychiatric patient but a female patient who was going through certain things and who was a little unstable,” he related.
“The nurse and the doctors tried to restrain her and she bit the nurse’s finger.” Stewart lamented that there is no compensation for such injuries.
“The RHAs (Regional Health Authorities) tell you to seek workmen’s compensation but that sum is woefully inadequate and it is a long, drawn-out process”.
He said nurses treating psychiatric patients at the St Ann’s Hospital suffer frequent assaults by patients. Stewart recalled the plight of one middle-aged nurse who was thrown to the ground by a psychiatric patient resulting in her injuring her back and was fired from the job as medically unfit. “She doesn’t yet qualify for a pension, and the RHA is tardy in giving her backpay of increments which she is still waiting on. So she has no income coming in.” Likewise, Stewart lamented the plight of nurses who are exposed to a host of microbial diseases in their daily course of work on hospital wards. “When a nurse contracts chicken-pox on the ward she is sent home for 14 days and so she loses a part of her salary because she has gone over her sick-leave time.” He said such a nurse’s boss will typically deny any liability. “They will say, ‘We are not sure that you acquired it on the wards because it could have been anywhere’”.
Nurses don’t even have health insurance, unlike security guards.
Stewart also bemoaned that nurses who are injured while accompanying their patients in inter- hospital ambulances are not covered by the vehicle’s insurance policy which chiefly covers the drivers. “A number of nurses and attendants have been injured on the job in these ambulances,” he related. Not only don’t they get compensation by any insurance coverage, he said, but they may then be penalised by the RHAs for exceeding their sick-leave allocation in recovering.
“Sometimes they will look to ‘board’ you, that is, to pronounce you as medically unfit and terminate you”.
Stewart wants nurses to be treated as fairly as members of the protective services such as police and fire officers. For example, when police and fire officers are injured on the job they are given priority access to medical treatment at public hospitals, unlike nurses who must join the line just like any other citizen. Further, if the officer’s injuries cannot be treated at a public hospital, the Government pays for them to be treated privately, but such a facility is not extended to nurses, said Stewart.
Saying that foreign jurisdictions put one nurse in charge of just a handful of patients - such as a one to-one ratio at an Intensive Care Unit - he lamented that a TT nurse typically takes care of 30 or 40 patients at any one time.
“Yet the public expects us to give our best.” He also lamented the insecure tenure of many nurses, saying logic dictated they should instead all be permanent so as to ensure continuity in the system. “All nurses in Tobago are contract workers,” Stewart lamented. Other RHA areas began their nurses as temporary but they then were made permanent.
“Nursing educators have been on one and two month contracts,” he revealed. “These are the very persons you are relying on to motivate new people into the profession to give of their best!”.
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