Delhi: 84 Nurses of City Hospital Say They Were Fired For Demanding Adherence to COVID Protocol

The Nursing Superintendent has denied the allegations and said that the hospital had been following the due process of renewing the yearly contracts of the temporary nursing staff.

New Delhi: A group of nurses at the Hakeem Abdul Hameed Centenary Hospital (HAHC) have accused their employer of wrongly “terminating” 84 of them “without any notice and without a valid reason.”

The nurses have speculated that the reason they were terminated was that they had been raising their voice against the poor management of the COVID-19 ward, and the medical staff attached to it, by the hospital.

The Nursing Superintendent (NS) of the hospital, however, said that they had only been following due process of renewing yearly contracts of temporary nursing staff, and that they had not terminated anyone.

A young nurse, who was a part of the agitation that occurred on July 13 and July 15 outside the hospital premises against the alleged termination, told The Wire that the nurses had been at loggerheads with the hospital management for over 15 days.

Accusations against the hospital 

On June 23, the nurses at HAHC penned a letter to the hospital management raising the issue of the poor condition of nurses and and accusing the hospital of various violations.

In the letter, the nursing staff at HAHC accused the hospital of denying them a COVID-19 test, and adequate quarantine facility after completing a COVID-19 duty.

“If I work in a COVID ward for seven days, I should get seven days’ quarantine facility, I can’t go back to my house where I may infect others,” a young nurse from HAHC said, on the condition of anonymity. “In my hostel, nurses who are working in the general ward live with nurses who are working in the COVID ward. How risky is that?” she said.

Also read: Delhi: More Than 2,000 Healthcare Workers Have Contracted COVID-19

In the letter, nurses at HAHC also accused the hospital of not giving them proper PPE and N95 masks. Another nurse who spoke to The Wire said that they were given 3M pollution masks instead of N95 masks and the PPE was of inferior quality and “did not properly cover [the] neck area”.

“We don’t have a proper donning and doffing area, where we can properly wear or discard our protective suits,” a nurse said.

As a result, 7-8 working staff members at the hospital have tested positive in the span of over four months since the hospital started a 219-bed COVID ward.

Surprisingly, the nurses also accused the hospital of not providing them with drinking water. According to a nurse, only 3-4 days ago, a water dispenser was installed after they protested.

“There was no water dispenser in the COVID ward since its inception. Packaged water bottles were brought for COVID-19 patients and we, nurses, were asked to buy the packaged water. On a different floor, one water dispenser is installed but how can we, who are attending COVID-19 patients, use a water dispenser that everyone else uses?” she asked.

“Finally, just 3-4 days ago, water was provided to us,” a nurse said.

Alleged termination of the nursing staff

The young nurse who spoke to The Wire said that since the nurses had accused the hospital of serious violations, the hospital management had used its power to not extend their yearly contract citing COVID-19 and have “terminated” 84 of them.

The hospital order informing staff nurses about the alleged termination was sent on July 11. The order said: “Extension in the contract of 84 staff nurses was due between Feb 2020 till July 10, 2020. These cases could not be processed due to the prevalence of COVID-19.”

Also read: Delhi: In Many Hospitals, Poor Working Conditions, Low Salaries Force Nurses to Resign

The order further states: “ The Competent Authority has approved the extension in the contractual appointment for all 84 nurses…till July 10, 2020 only. All these nurses therefore stand relieved from July 11, 2020”.

The young nurse said that none of the 84 nurses were given any notice before their alleged termination. Ideally, a one-month notice is required for terminating a contractual nurse.

“All nurses were on duty when they received a WhatsApp message about the termination. They were all terminated while on duty,” she said.

The IPNA and the UNA are two organisations who are helping staff nurses at HAHC raise their demands. The UNA has also written a letter to the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal to take cognisance of the alleged termination of nurses.

Nursing Superintendent’s defence

Speaking to The Wire, the Nursing Superintendent (NS) of the HAHC has defended the hospital. “They have not been terminated. They have been, with due process, relieved by the hospital because their contract had ended. We have called all of them for fresh interviews as per our protocol”, she said.

As per the rules of contractual employment, all the 84 nurses who have been relieved by the hospital have been asked to come for fresh walk-in interviews to renew their contract, the NS said.

“We will give them fresh offer letters like we do every year. Those nurses who are below average [in their work], they will be given feedback and their contracts will not be renewed. This also we do every year. There is nothing wrong in this,” she added.

On the other accusations, the NS said that after the Delhi government asked them to increase the number of COVID-19 beds in the hospital from 30 to over 200, there were many structural changes that were required to be done. According to her, some basic changes were made, a separate donning and doffing area was provided to the nurses. However, she admitted that some additions to the area still need to be made. “Painting of the walls, setting up of lighting etc. is gradually being done,” she said.

The NS also said that after the hospital became a COVID hospital, it had to bear enormous expenses and they did whatever they could to provide their nursing staff with appropriate PPE kits and masks.

When asked why 3M pollution masks were given to the staff instead of N95 masks, she said that the 3M masks were equally good too. “I am also wearing 3M masks, they are absolutely fine,” she said. “At the double-triple rate our management purchased masks for our staff.”

Also read: COVID-19: At Delhi Hospital Where Nurse Died, Others Say They Were Made to Reuse PPE

The NS also denied that the nurses were not given proper drinking water. “There is an RO at every floor,” she said.

According to the NS, while the hospital management did not put up nurses and medics at a hotel for quarantine, they reserved a 50 bed ICU for the nursing staff. In addition, 4 private rooms have also been made available. “Before this agitation, 67 nurses were quarantined in these facilities provided by us”, she said.

The NS has said that at least 40 of the 84 nurses who were relieved have now been issued fresh contracts. But both the young nurses who spoke to The Wire speculated that these fresh contracts had been issued because of pressure from the nurses’ union.

Member of parliament and CPI leader, Binoy Viswam also penned a letter to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on July 13, saying that if the hospital “is not able to justify their termination, they must be reinstated immediately.”

The Wire has also reached out to the doctors of the hospitals to ascertain the claims of the nurses as well as the hospital management. The story will be updated when a response is received.