Hundreds of patients had to face a harrowing time on Friday when emergency services were completely shut down after 5,000 agitating nurses at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) went on mass casual leave demanding higher pay than that recommended by the 7 Pay Commission. Close to 90 surgeries had to be postponed. Scores of patients were turned away by the guards outside the Emergency department.
“We have come here from far but they are not registering patients at the Emergency department. We will wait for some time,” said Zubeida, a resident of Seelampur in Northeast Delhi, who had come with a heart related problem.
Only around 400 senior staffers out of 5,400 nurses at the hospital reported for duty even as hundreds of critically-ill patients were denied admission in view of the staff crunch.
“We are protesting against the retrograde recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission. Our demand is that the entry pay grade for staff nurses should be enhanced to `5,400 from the existing `4,600 and the nursing allowance should be enhanced by `7,800. Apart from that, risk allowance and night duty allowances should be given to all nurses as it is given to all other government employees,” said Harish Kumar Kajla, President of AIIMS Nurses’ Union.
“On Friday, only emergency cases could be taken up for surgery. We sought the help of senior paramedical staff and students for that,” a senior doctor, who did not want to be quoted, said.
Several patients were forced to visit the nearby Safdarjung and other hospitals in wake of the nurses’ strike, even as the AIIMS authorities likened the protest to blackmailing and arm-twisting of administration at the cost of poor patients.
Friday’s shutdown left many in tears. “My uncle’s condition is critical. But the gu ards are not allowing us to take him to the casualty ward. Where do we go now?” asked Nutan Verma, who had come from Tahirpur in east Delhi.
Patna resident Raani Bai, 70, who suffers from kidney disease said she had to wait for almost three hours before being forced to go to Safdarjung Hospital. “We waited thinking the services would resume but then we were forced to go take our mother to Safdarjung as her condition was worsening,” said Bai’s son.
With the nurses threatening to go an indefinite strike from March 27, the AIIMS administration has labelled the protest as “blackmail.” “Their mass leave is not justified legally. We have already implemented the Pay Commission recommendations,” said Dr Balram Airan, the acting director of AIIMS.
“There have been similar protests in the past but emergency services were not allowed to be disrupted in this manner. It involves critically-ill patients who may die due to little negligence,” said a doctor. The doctor also slammed the administration for failing to make alternative arrangements.
After several rounds of negotiations between the AIIMS administration and nurses, the daylong casual leave ended with the hospital agreeing to their demands. Nurses returned to their work for the evening and night shifts and called off their planned strike on March 27.
At 5pm on Friday, Mr Kajla told the crowd “The AIIMS administration has accepted our demands. We have decided to call off our agitation… Those who have evening shift, please report for duty.” He said the administration has assured that no action will be taken against those who participated in Friday’s mass leave.