After a 13-14-hour “Covid duty”, nurses in some Delhi hospitals have to spend nights in Gurudwaras or share sleeping quarters that are crowded and lacking in basic facilities.

In Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) Hospital, the nurses had to issue a strike call to highlight their plight, caused by increasing isolation, alienation from families and poor accommodation.

At Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital in Delhi, of the 1,500 nursing professionals, 200 are engaged in Covid-19 duty on a rotational basis.

They are unaware of the protocol to be followed in the ward; whether to drink water from bottles kept there and how they should have their meals. They are supposed to move together and stay away from others, and that causes immense pressure. They cannot go home for 14 days while on duty and the accommodation provided at night lacks even basic toilet facilities.

“We were asked to stay in crowded rooms at a Gurudwara. The chances of community spread are high in such places. We were not even provided separate toilets,” a nurse told BusinessLine.

Guidelines not followed

According to Gurdarshan Kaur Khurana, general secretary of the All India Government Nurses Federation, 50 nurses at the LNJP hospital were staying in one room. They had to protest to get the attention of the Government.

“We are not asking for five-star accommodation. But we deserve hygienic places to stay,” Kaur said.

Though a number of guidelines with regard to nurses have been issued by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), autonomous bodies, WHO, ICMR and State Governments, individual hospital administrations are not clear about which ones have to be followed. There is no clarity about how many nurses have to be quarantined, for how many days and where they must stay.

“Nurses have to follow the instructions issued by hospital administration regarding place of posting, working hours and quarantine time. Frontline nurses need special attention for their protection. There should be a common guideline from the Government of India on working hours of nurses as well as quarantine period, which should be implemented by all State governments, CGHS, Railways, ESIC, Autonomous, Central Government hospitals and private hospitals/institutes with strict implementation information,” she said.

Private nurses neglected

The United Nurses Association (UNA), a union of nurses working in private hospitals, said the Central and State governments are neglecting health workers in private facilities.

“The experience of UNA’s members is that large corporate hospitals are not able to follow government guidelines with regard to workers’ safety, infection risk management and labour rights. UNA is concerned that as the outbreak intensifies, lapses will worsen, and calls on the Central and State governments to take control of private facilities that will be involved in response to Covid-19,” said UNA national working president Rince Joseph.

There is an acute shortage of protective gear and even hand-sanitisers, a major concern with the spike in Covid-19 cases.

“This is a matter of great concern. Though the Government has promised that there will be enough protective gear, even AIIMS had to make it on its own. Some hospitals are even preparing sanitisers as there is scarcity in their availability,” said Professional Nurses Association joint secretary Siju Thomas.