“The services did not suffer and I want to thank all of them and I will personally thank them in a different way also.”
Those were the words of gratitude expressed by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on radio Sunday, days after nurses in the state health system withdrew their services in response to a call from the Public Service Union (PSU) their bargaining agent, over disaffection with the passage in Parliament on August 6, of an amendment to the Public Health Act.
It requires that certain front line workers in the public service take the COVID19 vaccination or be tested regularly at their own expense. The union said this violates the rights of workers and served notice that essential workers, including nurses, would take strike action from September 7-10.
Gonsalves, calling in to the WEFM “Issue at Hand” interactive programme Sunday, echoed the expressions of the health authorities who commended the nurses for their “unwavering commitment” in the provision of health care to patients during the strike as he gave a review of the attendance of nurses at the various health facilities on the mainland and the different departments at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH).
Some institutions and departments, he said, recorded 100 per cent attendance with only the Maternity Ward at the MCMH experiencing almost 50 per cent absenteeism among its nursing staff.
At the MCMH “there are persons on leave who turned up to work- in the executive of the PSU- nursing staff who said that they are not only going to turn out but they are going to ask other nurses to turn out to work,” Gonsalves added.
Asked by one of the programme’s hosts if “in light of the tremendous sacrifice that the health workers have made over the last 18 months” the recognition of nurses would be material, the Prime Minister responded:” I have absolutely no doubt that it would be material”.
The nurses know “that this government has been extremely supportive” of them, the Prime Minister noted as he enumerated various ways in which they have benefitted, imcluding an increase in the intake of students to the nursing programme, the provision of tuition scholarships for higher levels of training along with financial support, the granting of generous study leave as well as improved facilities for working.
“…Look there are all kind ah reasons why I have a soft spot for the nurses, but in a very personal sense a nurse, Glen Jackson’s mother saved my life at the Colonarie clinic… so they have a very special place in my heart,” Gonsalves said. He however pointed out that on inquiry during the strike, he had learnt that the level in absenteeism among nurses at the Maternity Ward may have been influenced by other factors.
“The nurse midwives are not appropriately recognized as a sub-set with very specialized skills and therefore should receive comparative quote unquote ‘premium payment’ as may be accorded to other specialized groups”. This he said, has to be checked out and gave the assurance “if that is found to be the case it has to be sorted out”.
Several nurses were among union members who took part in last week Thursday’s protest in Kingstown and the PSU president Elroy Boucher commended them expressing that the withdrawal of service was “moderately successful”.