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July 5, 2019

Nurses take to the streets again over government’s ‘unfulfilled promises’


July 5, 2019

Tertiary-care hospitals in Karachi stopped admitting critically-ill patients, including children, on Thursday and advised them to visit private and charity-run health facilities after nurses working at public hospitals refused to perform their responsibilities and gathered at the Karachi Press Club (KPC) for a sit-in.

Hundreds of patients faced immense difficulties in availing health care services and facilities at public hospitals — including the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), the National Institute of Child Health (NICH), the Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK), the Sindh Government Hospital Korangi and the Sindh Government Hospital Qatar — after their male and female nursing staff boycotted their duties at wards, intensive care units (ICUs), operation theatres (OTs) and emergencies to protest against non-acceptance of their demands.

The worst situation was witnessed at the NICH, the largest public sector children’s hospital in Sindh, where the administration refused to admit sick children, arguing that their nurses were absent and they could not take care of the kids merely with the help of the doctors.

Even the emergency department of the NICH, which is managed by the Child Life Foundation (CLF), an NGO that is running paediatric emergency departments at many public hospitals in the province, refused to treat children at the emergency, arguing that the hospital administration was not accepting children for admission in the wards due to the nurses’ protest.

Several ambulances carrying critically-ill children were turned away by the NICH staff while parents of the ailing children were seen arguing with the hospital administration over treating their children, as they could not afford to get them treatment at private hospitals and clinics in the city.

A similar situation was witnessed at other hospitals across the city where doctors were forced to turn away patients, as the nurses were not present to assist them in treating and taking care of the patients.

CHK Medical Superintendent Dr Khadim Hussain said they were immensely under pressure due to the nurses’ protest, and claimed that he had requested the house officers and the postgraduate students to assist the registrars, medical officers and consultants in providing medical care to the patients in the wards and emergency departments.

“This situation is intolerable, as the flow of the patients increases at the CHK due to such protests by nurses and paramedics. This is the worst kind of blackmailing that puts the lives of the patients at risk for making illogical and illegal financial demands.”

But the nurses and their representatives claimed that they were justified in their protest, their boycott of duties and their sit-in because their demands were not met by the Sindh Health Department and the provincial government despite the fact that there had been a written agreement. They vowed to continue their protest until the government starts implementing the four-tier formula for the promotion of nurses and the payment of health allowances to them.

“Today we boycotted our duties at the hospitals to protest against the health department’s failure to implement the agreement made with us regarding the promotion of nurses as per the four-tier formula and the payment of health allowances,” said Aijaz Kaleri, representative of nurses of Sindh and an employee of the NICH in Karachi. “We waited for over two months for the acceptance of our demands but to no avail.”

Kaleri said that nurses from all public hospitals in the city did not perform their duties at the wards on Thursday, while 50 per cent of the nursing staff posted at the ICUs, OTs and emergency departments also boycotted their duties and participated in the sit-in outside the KPC.

An NICH nurse said that for the past two months they have been approaching every official in the health department, the Sindh government and the city administration to remind them of their commitment with the province’s nurses.

“But nobody even bothered to talk to us. We are forced to boycott our duties and stage a sit-in at the KPC, which will continue until the acceptance of our demands,” said the nurse, and warned that they can also march on the Chief Minister House if their demands are not met.

Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho is out of the country while Health Secretary Saeed Awan is in Larkana to review the HIV outbreak and to streamline the international response, said a health department official, adding that they are planning to meet the nurses to convince them of calling off their strike in the interest of the patients.

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