(THE NEW TODAY) — The Public Workers Union (PWU) has confirmed that “over 80 nurses” will be leaving the island shortly to take up permanent employment in the United Kingdom.
Union officials told reporters last week that the mass exodus is partly due to the continued “arrogance and disrespect” demonstrated to the nursing fraternity by the Ministry of Health headed by senior government minister, Nicholas Steele.
According to PWU’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Brian Grimes, one of the vexing issues relates to the fact that many health professionals are forced to work on contracts and not tenure of security.
Grimes said that health professionals especially are offered contracts “time after time so there is no security of tenure” and they cannot go to financial institutions to get loans “to achieve their dreams…”.
“…People are being frustrated because they are living below the standard that the nursing profession requires. So, they are leaving our shores and going other places”, he added.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in the Ministry of Health, Dr. George Mitchell told this newspaper that he could not confirm reports that 80 nurses are leaving the island to pick up more lucrative contracts in the United Kingdom.
“…We are hearing this from the grapevine but it has not been confirmed”, he said.
The CMO was specifically asked exactly how the ministry will deal with the impact that the departure of nurses will have on the health sector, which is already significantly understaffed.
THE NEW TODAY reported in its July 20 issue that Grenada was set to lose 84 nurses including the only qualified nurse at the Blood Unit, Karen Jolly after a British recruiting agency visited the island to interview several of them for possible employment in UK hospitals and other health facilities.
Grimes also told reporters that the PWU had picked up information that government was planning to increase the working hours of nurses to 12-hour shifts.
“That is unconscionable,” he declared.
However, the CMO refuted the Union’s claims as it relates to the 12 hour shifts, stating that government has “no official position” on a contingency plan in the event that there is a mass exodus of nurses from Grenada.
“The issue is being discussed but there is no official position as far as I know”, Mitchell told THE NEW TODAY.
Grimes outlined a number of issues that are negatively affecting health professionals including poor working conditions, limited resources, late uniform allowance, as well as being threatened and bullied by health officials to sign contracts dating back to 2015.
In addition, he said the nation’s health workers are being called upon to perform duties outside their scope of work, subsistence allowance not given to nurses, and they are forced to find other forms of employment to survive.
Nurses’ representative on the PWU, Patricia Strachan pointed out that there are Nursing assistants who completed their terms of training in 2002/3 but were only appointed in the service in January 2017.
“There are nursing assistants, who would have given 6, 8 years service, Registered Nurses, who would have given over 10 years of service and are being told that they have to work on contract,” Strachan said.
According to Strachan, the Registered Nurse (RN) position was established in 2013 and now, 5 years later “our nurses are being given contracts that don’t provide them with security of tenure, they cannot get loans”.
She added that to date “we have 26 established Registered Nurses on the book (while) all our other registered nurses are contracted nurses”.
Union officials also told reporters that presently there are approximately 30 trained midwives in the service who are being paid the same salary as a Registered Nurse (RN).
PWU President, Rachael Roberts called on the Ministry of Health to treat nurses as valued members of the public service and with “respect and dignity”.
“Our membership is not treated as valuable members of the Public Service who are playing an integral and critical role in the quality of our public services,” she said while calling for a policy change in the health sector.
“Our health care workers, specifically our nurses …and we ask that these members be valued and appreciated,” she declared, pointing out that ”a contract of appointment does not allow our nurses to grow and develop (or) the security of tenure that they deserve”.
“We want to see our nurses regularised and we want to send the message to the Ministry of Health that regularisation does not mean an increase in salary (but) being appointed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and that is what we call for. We call for the appointment of our membership by the PSC”, said the PWU boss.
Union officials have repeatedly said over the years that the island’s health sector is in a crisis.
Roberts pleaded with the Health ministry to stop taking advantage of nurses, while pointing out that “if a nurse is employed as a Registered Nurse, please refrain from asking her to perform duties as a midwife.”
She pledged to “take whatever action necessary to ensure that we bring justice to our membership, to ensure that we see changes within the workplace (and) that the employment arrangement of our membership is regularised…”.
Roberts claimed that health professionals on the island are being “disregarded and becoming disenfranchised, de-motivated and demoralised” by the actions of those in authority.