‘Nightingales’ in distress

Nurses recruited by MRB demand hike in salary

While nurses were being celebrated world over on International Nurses day on Tuesday, a section of them belonging to Tamil Nadu MRB Nurses Empowerment Association were pressing for their long-pending demand of switching from consolidated pay to time-scale based pay.

Despite working for six hours in uncomfortable personal protection equipment (PPEs) or delivering babies at ungodly hours in remote primary health centres, the nurses, who sat for the Medical Recruitment Board (MRB) exam in 2015 to join government medical services, get a meagre salary of ₹14,000.

Secretary of the association’s Madurai chapter S. K. Sujatha said she wrote the exam in 2015, hoping to ensure steady salary raises and a promise to move to time-scale based pay.

Ms. Sujatha who works at a Primary Health Centre (PHC) in one of Madurai’s remote villages, said she did the exactly the same work as all staff nurses from her batch but received only 1/4th of the salary.

Another nurse, who worked at Government Rajaji Hospital’s COVID-19 ward a week ago, said her experience of working at the ward involved wearing PPE between 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. As someone who first worked in a ‘COVID-19 suspected ward’, she said she had to clear bedpans and provide food in an extremely uncomfortable attire.

“Many lab technicians and postgraduate students would often call us over the phone and pass on instructions. Although they had to conduct the blood tests, they would delegate the task to us,” she said.

As someone who wears a pair of spectacles inside her PPE, her glasses would often shift providing an unclear view of the patient’s veins. Despite this, she would work. “At the end of my shift, my palms and fingers would have shrunk due to lack of blood supply from wearing tight gloves. I would oil my hands and continue my shift the next day,” she said.

Despite working this hard, the nurse said she received the standard ₹14,000, while regularised junior staff nurses were paid ₹42,000.

Ms. Sujatha said that rural PHCs became the first screening centre for people who travelled to their villages from other parts of Tamil Nadu or other States. “We are provided inadequate PPEs, N-95 masks and gloves.”

Since March, she had been using the same mask and gloves which were first provided. “In case we need any additional material, we must buy it ourselves,” she said.

Another nurse from an Urban PHC, said that all nurses at her PHC used surgical masks. “Despite doing 12-hour shift and delivering newborns without the help of a medical officer, we are not given any N-95 masks. It is the least that the health department can do as we are frontline workers,” she said.

Ms. Sujatha said that although Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami announced workers at the GRH’s COVID-19 ward would get double salary, only names had been collected. “The government is also ignoring the several hundred nurses who work at Taluk hospitals and PHCs without knowing whether or not they are exposing themselves to the disease.”

Ms. Sujatha is proud to serve during this disastrous time but she also needs money to ensure that her children’s future is secure. “We are thankful for all the claps and petals. It will be great if we can get more salary though,” she said.

Collector T. G. Vinay said N-95 masks and PPEs need not be used by PHC workers. Adequate triple layer masks had been provided as Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation was providing continuous supply to the district.

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