LAST WEEK, to register its opposition to an amendment to the Public Health Act which would require workers in specific jobs to be vaccinated, the Public Service Union called for a four-day withdrawal of essential services.
Precisely how the nurses would respond to that call, no one knew. For in the battle that has erupted over vaccinating Vincentians against Covid19, no group of Vincentians has generated greater attention than our nurses.
Afterall, it is quite well established that a significant percentage of our nurses have not yet been inoculated.
We now know the nurses’ response to the call for their withdrawal of services. The union admits that the effort was only moderately successful. The health ministry has declared that the nurses gave “unwavering commitment” to providing healthcare for their patients. The union’s grudging admission that they could not persuade a sufficiently large number of nurses to withdraw their services and the government’s elation that patient care was broadly speaking uninterrupted tell us something that is very important: our nurses believe that the care of their patients remains their highest calling.
None of this means that the nurses do not have legitimate concerns which their unions need to pursue. Nor should we assume that the nurses’ refusal to withdraw their services in the numbers hoped for by the union as a full-throated approval of every policy of the government. Rather, what it tells us is that our nurses possess the capacity to weigh the options before them: should they exercise their legal right to withdraw their services from their patients? Or should they answer to the call of conscience and the demands of their profession that they offer balm to the afflicted?
It is certain that every single patient across our clinics and hospitals benefitted from that commitment to duty.
We are already a country facing the greatest stresses in our history as an independent country. Volcanic eruption, pandemic, political polarization, all of these have served to bring genuine distress to our body politic. To lose our nurses precisely at the time when they are most needed is clearly injurious to the wellbeing of the nation. Our nurses therefore chose to put the interest of their patients and the interest of the nation ahead of any individual and collective victory that the union could have claimed in its impasse with the government over the vaccination of essential workers.
Patriotism cannot simply be expressed in words.
Above all, it must be expressed in action. When the chips were down our nurses chose to give of themselves in service of others. It is indeed the highest form of patriotism. We would wish that every Vincentian can see in the nurses’ action the inspiration we all seek in our own lives. We do wish that it is an example which we all can follow. We are living in perilous times. Our nurses have shown that they remain committed to the vision of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. They deserve our deep and unreserved thanks.